Howard benched for two games

Following tonight's game in Los Angeles, the Phillies will reach the official halfway point of the season. Eighty-one of 162 games in the books.

Ryan Howard, who once hit 58 home runs in a season and averaged 44 homers per year from 2006-11, has 10 home runs. So, he's on pace for around 20.

Charlie Manuel strongly defended keeping Howard in the cleanup spot in his lineup earlier this month. But on Friday, he succumbed to his former slugger's struggles and kept him out of the lineup entirely.

But there's more: Howard won't play Saturday, either.

Manuel has decided to bench Howard in an effort to get the $125 million man going before the Phillies season reaches a crisis point.

Manuel called Howard into his office on Friday afternoon at Dodger Stadium to go over the plan.

"I talked to him, (hitting coaches Steve Henderson (Wally Joyner) were in there with me," Manuel said. "Actually we have two lefties in a row, more than likely he’ll be sitting out tomorrow, too. We’re going to do some drills with him. We’re going to do some work with his hitting and also give him some time, let him sit down and kind of clear his head. We’ll see where he goes He’ll play Sunday. We’re off Monday, when we got to Pittsburgh. And he’ll play Tuesday, he’ll be back in there and we’ll turn him loose."

Howard is hitless in his last 16 at-bats. Half of those at-bats have ended with strikeouts.

He was particularly hard on himself following Thursday's game, saying he cost his team a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers.

"It wasn’t the greatest night or game for me today," said Howard, who misplayed a bunt and took a bad swing at a 3-0 pitch and grounded into a double play. " I take full responsibility for it. … It’s sucks, man. It sucks.”

There are still has 3 1/2 years remaining on Howard's five-year, $125 million contract. The man who signed him up to that contract, GM Ruben Amaro Jr., believes Howard can still be a productive, middle of the order bat.

Amaro blamed health, which in turn, has sapped Howard of confidence.

"More than anything else, he has to get himself to the point where he is healthy again," Amaro said. "Health means something to these guys mentally. It's hard to play at 100 percent when you're not at 100 percent. The knee issue may have something to do with his ankle originally. One thing is connected to the other. We just have to get him back and healthy. He can still be a very productive player. It's a matter of him getting physically back to 100 percent. He needs to get his mojo back. One works with the other."

Howard declined to talk to the press before Friday's game.

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