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Phillies to cut Ryan Howard's playing time

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Tommy Joseph will now see the majority of playing time at first base.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It appears as though the end is near for long-time Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

We've seen this coming for a while now. As Howard continued to struggle (his .154 batting average and .219 on-base percentage rank 188th out of 188 MLB players with at least 150 plate appearances) it's become more obvious that his playing time should decrease.

And now, with the presence of the intriguing Tommy Joseph now jumping to the forefront, it seems clear manager Pete Mackanin is ready to award Joseph with much more playing time.

"We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him," Mackanin said. "I can’t let him stagnate on the bench like (Darin) Ruf ended up doing, so he’s going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don’t know when the next time we’re going to face a left-handed pitcher is, but I’m going to use (Joseph) a little bit more often than I did Ruf."

Interestingly, Mackanin referenced Ruf and how his lack of playing time "stagnated" the veteran first baseman. Ruf never started more than two games in a row during his straight platoon with Howard this season, and some weeks only got one or two starts.

Nevertheless, Ruf is now in Triple-A and Joseph is on the big club. And it appears it's Joseph that's going to get the chance to prove he's more than just a platoon bat.

Howard has struck out in 33% of his plate appearances this season. He is batting .097 in the month of May. Each single seems worthy of celebration. Meanwhile, since being called up, Joseph is batting .286/.286/.571 with three homers and a .286 ISO.

Although it's a small sample size, Joseph has a hard hit rate of 46.2% and is hitting a line drive in 30.8% of his plate appearances. Yes, he's not drawing many walks yet, but he is running deep counts and, outside of Odubel Herrera and Andres Blanco, has been having the most consistent at bats on the team since his call-up.

After Sunday's game in Chicago, wrapping up a disastrous series against the best team in baseball, Howard said he hadn't yet been made aware he would sitting more against right-handers.

"I haven’t heard anything about sitting more against righties," he said. "I haven’t been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do."

The change began on Sunday against the Cubs, as Howard sat against right-hander John Lackey. And while Joseph went 0-for-3 against Lackey, he did add a garbage time home run in the ninth inning, his third of the season.

It remains to be seen exactly how the playing time will be divvied up, but any scenario in which Joseph doesn't play at least five times a week just doesn't make sense.

The whole point of the 2016 season is to see which young players may have a future with the club. And even if the goal was to win as many games as possible this season, benching Howard would be best in that scenario too.

The larger issue remains just how much longer Howard is going to stay on the roster. It's hard to argue that Howard has less value than a player like Emmanuel Burriss, and perhaps not playing every day will help Howard perform better on the days he is in there. If Joseph truly is getting the vast majority of starts, the Phils don't need to release Howard right now.

But as young players like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and others get ready to hit the Majors, the Phillies will have some decisions to make with their roster. And if things keep on like this, it's not unreasonable to think Howard could be the victim of a numbers crunch.

For now, Howard is a bench player. Joseph is the starter.

A move that, frankly, was overdue.

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