Ryne Sandberg would not say the word. The Phillies manager did everything but label the current situation at first base a platoon, but it was not hard to interpret his intentions.
Darin Ruf starts at first and bats seventh Wednesday. Ryan Howard, the team's $125 million erstwhile slugger, could see his playing time decrease.
"I know what he can do," Sandberg said. "I've seen him for 100 games. I know what he can do. I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward."
Howard has two extra-base hits in his last 100 plate appearances. His slugging percentage is .377. He is hitting .188 at Citizens Bank Park.
He is owed $60 million after 2014.
That makes this juggle a delicate one, and Sandberg spoke Wednesday with caution. A Phillies public relations official, expecting questions about Howard's status, briefed Sandberg in the dugout tunnel before his daily session with reporters. The manager used careful language.
Would the money owed to Howard affect how he is handled?
"Well, it's also about wins and losses out here," Sandberg said. "When the game starts it's about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game. If that means playing somebody else there and there's production right away that's trying to win a baseball game."
Howard stressed patience.
"There's always expectations; it's easy for people to put expectations on you because they're not the ones going out there and doing it," Howard said. "I have expectation for myself. And yeah, it's been a disappointing year. It's been a disappointing year for me, period."
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