Ryan Howard's final August with the Phillies was a good one. Maybe it wasn't up there with his summer months of old, when he could piston the ball through the steamy air seemingly at will, but it wasn't bad at all. He hit .314 with six home runs and 15 runs batted in during 16 games.
Given that uptick in an otherwise quiet year, Howard was surprised and disappointed to learn that manager Pete Mackanin intends to shave his playing time in the last month of the season in order to see Tommy Joseph get more at-bats against righthanded pitchers.
That isn't the way Howard wants to end his Phillies career, particularly when he views his late-season improvement as an advertisement for other teams who might want to give him a chance next season.
"You're talking about an evaluation process of where you've gotten to see players this year play. And you'll have another opportunity to see those same players play again next year and I won't be here," Howard said before Wednesday's game against the Nationals. "So, for me, I just want to play. I don't necessarily think it's right or fair, considering this is my last month here, but it is interesting."
Howard could have been doubly stung on Wednesday, which was also the last day in which a trade could be made to land a player on a postseason roster. He previously cleared waivers, but apparently no playoff-bound team stepped forward to deal for the bench pop he might provide, even though the Phillies would have been willing to absorb all or almost all of the financial risk involved.
It's one thing for other organizations to look elsewhere - and, let's face it, Howard's .196 average this season didn't help his marketability - but Howard is one of the greatest players in Phillies history, and he doesn't like Mackanin's recent decision, or how it was relayed.
"The manager shouldn't have to answer the question in the media. I think that's something that you talk to your players about. That's one thing. Having to answer that question as far as the evaluation process, for me it's tough. I'm not going to sit here and lie. I've got one more month here and I just want to play and finish out playing," Howard said. "So, it's like I'm just trying to do my time, finish out this last month, and try to keep playing somewhere else."
Mackanin said he intended to start using Joseph more during a pregame media session Tuesday.
"I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible," Mackanin said. "I don't want to happen to him what happened to [Darin] Ruf, where he didn't have opportunities to get at-bats."
Ruf's opportunity to platoon with Howard at first base was limited to 83 sporadic starts between 2013 and 2015. He was a victim of time and place, too, because the organization was still tied to Howard for a much longer term then. This season, Joseph has gotten a more consistent shot since he was called up in mid-May. Wednesday was his 61st start at first base this season, and he was the regular first baseman for all of June and July before essentially splitting starts with Howard in August.
"I never said Howard was not going to play," Mackanin said Wednesday, asked again about the rest of this season. "I said that Joseph was going to get as many at-bats against righthanders as I see fit. I'm going to pick my spots where he gets enough at-bats against righthanded pitchers, but at the same time Howard is going to play a lot. He's going to play. Howard's going to get plenty of at-bats the rest of the way, but he's not going to face every righthander. It's important to see Joseph. If Howie's not going to be here next year, [Joseph] is at the top of the list right now."
The manager said the decision was solely his own, although it could be the organization is also interested in further assessing Joseph's potential, even though it will take playing time from a franchise legend's farewell.
"[This] has been an ongoing process the last three years," Howard said. "They were doing the same thing with Ruffie. It has nothing to do with Tommy. It has nothing to do with Darin. It has everything to do with the process. I'm just trying to play and go somewhere else and play. I think there comes a time when there needs to be more dialogue and more of an understanding of, 'Why now?' Now, when you've got three weeks left in the season? Why now? I'm going out and hitting and playing better and all of sudden it's another wrinkle."
Howard has run out to first base to start a game 1,403 times in his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. There are 29 games left on the schedule in that career. He says he just wants his fair share of them. The problem, of course, is that different people have a different definition of that number.
"I want to finish the season strong, finish my time here in Philadelphia on a good note, and go somewhere else and play," he said.
Is that too much to ask? Ryan Howard is just asking.