Ryan Howard and Pete Mackanin finally had "the talk."
Ahead of Wednesday night's game against the Nationals, the Phils long-time first baseman and the team's manager had what Mackanin called "an adult conversation" about playing time, telling him that rookie Tommy Joseph would start the next 3-to-4 games, all against right-handed pitchers.
That begins tonight with one of the best in the game, Max Scherzer.
"I want to see Joseph," Mackanin said, "and I thought it was the right thing to do.
"It's not so much about Ryan. It's about seeing the younger guy who tore it up in triple A and came up here to make a good first impression. We want to get a look at him. As we know, this season is about the future. We're in the middle of a rebuilding process."
And yet, it could be a very short-lived audition. Mackanin told Howard to treat the next few days as if they were an All-Star break.
"We'll see what Tommy does in three or four days," Mackanin said. "That very well could extend that period of time to a week. It depends on how well he looks."
So it sounds like while Joseph could conceivably win the job over the next few days, if he struggles, that might be it. And three or four games doesn't seem like much of an opportunity for the 24-year-old.
It must be tough to have a 36-year-old veteran breathing down your neck for playing time.
Howard, to his credit, took the news like a true professional.
Howard to Mackanin: "I told him, I get it. I know where I am right now. I understand."— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) June 1, 2016
"I said, 'Hey, you’re in there the next 3-4 days, whatever it may be. Do what you’ve got to do to go out and kick some butt.'"— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) June 1, 2016
Howard was also adamant that he is not planning on retiring.
Howard says he has no plans to walk away if he doesn't start playing better. "That's the easy thing to do" when things get tough. #Phillies— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) June 1, 2016
Of course, Howard isn't going to retire and forfeit the remaining $25 million left on his contract this year, as well as his $10 million buyout for 2017. And no matter what you think about his performance, Howard took his benching like a man, a pro.
It's also a hard conversation for Mackanin to have with Howard, someone who is a good teammate, an asset in the clubhouse, and a legend of the franchise. Howard has earned that respect.
But his play on the field hasn't earned him the starting first base job. He's hitting .154 this year, which ranks 200th out of 200 players with at least 150 PAs. And his .215 on-base percentage is 199th. He hit .101/.160/.261 in May.
This was long overdue. The real question is, what happens after 3 or 4 days?
What happens if Joseph goes 2-for-16 during this four-game stretch? Is that enough time for a young player to establish himself? Is that a fair opportunity? If he falters, does that mean they go back to a straight lefty-righty platoon? Does it mean a 50-50 split? Or does it mean they simply draw one of their names out of a hat before each game?
The "benching" of Ryan Howard, which could reverse itself in four days if Joseph doesn't hit well, is not so much about Howard as it is about Joseph and his development. The Phillies should be respectful and caring toward Howard while at the same time prioritizing the development of Joseph, who may or may not turn out to be a useful player moving forward.
Showing deference and respect to Howard is the right thing to do. But Mackanin and his bosses shouldn't take it too far.
The end of an aging veteran's career can sometimes be rough. Not everyone goes out like David Ortiz. Just ask Mike Schmidt or Steve Carlton.
So if this is, for all intents and purposes, the end of Howard's career, let's remember the good times, shall we?
3 run walkoff homer May 28th, 2014 pic.twitter.com/VcbJQRZY82— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) June 1, 2016
I will never forget his 3 run homer off Lohse to take the lead in NLDS gm 1 in 2011 pic.twitter.com/NrAPjOg9id— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) June 1, 2016
hitting balls to Ashburn Alley? why not pic.twitter.com/FcR32dfKy2— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) June 1, 2016
There. That feels better.