Ryan Howard bats fifth 'for another look'

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and first baseman Ryan Howard. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There was no reason to read between the Phillies lineup lines Monday, Ryne Sandberg said. He batted Marlon Byrd fourth and Ryan Howard fifth.

"Just to split up the lefthanded bats for another look," Sandberg said.

If it was jarring, that is because Howard last batted fifth on June 29, 2008. Pat Burrell was the cleanup hitter that night. The Phillies lost a game started by Jamie Moyer, now one of the team's TV broadcasters.

Howard has started 664 regular-season games since then, all as the No. 4 hitter. Former manager Charlie Manuel said Howard would forever be his cleanup hitter. There is no reason to believe that status will change — at least not yet — under Sandberg.

"That's yet to be seen," Sandberg said. "It was just something to try today in spring training. Separate the lefthanded bats and see what that looks like. As it turned out, Howard still came up in a cleanup hitter's type of a situation with men on base."

Chase Utley singled and Byrd walked in the first inning of Monday's 8-1 loss to Atlanta. Howard flied out to center. Byrd stroked a two-out double in the third but Howard stranded him with a groundout to first base.

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.