It's not out of the question. It's one of several decisions that will be answered tomorrow when the Phillies take on the Cardinals big left-hander.
I had April 5 circled very early as a game that would indicate Charlie Manuel’s direction this season.
If this were 2005, it would be a safe bet that Howard, a .148 hitter against southpaws, would sit against Mulder, one of the game's toughest left-handers. Opponents hit just .201 against Mulder from the left side.
Manuel was very protective of his big rookie last season and shielded him from many of these bad matchups, but no player has been hotter than Howard. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he hit more than one of his 11 spring-training homers off left-handed pitching, including the colossal shot in Sunday’s exhibition game against Boston. I watched that blast in person. It was the longest home run I’ve seen in that park.
However, that was off a bush leaguer, not Mulder. Alex Gonzalez would be a likely candidate to replace him at first, similar to how Ramon Martinez was used last season. “Muscles” Martinez performed admirably in his place, but denying the lineup of Howard’s bat was met with mild displeasure.
I’ve often credited Manuel for his handling of Howard. There’s little to argue over, really. Manuel eased a high-strikeout rookie into his first taste of big-league pitching, he never slumped and won ROTY. Currently, he’s red-hot.
Charlie knows hitters. He knows their limitations. Howard still has rough edges, but so does Mulder. His 3.64 ERA last season was saved by good defense, masking a much higher 4.28 FIP (Fielding-independent) ERA.
My senses say the Phillies are eager to uncork Howard for a full season, and he'll be in action tomorrow. Down the road, when he needs a break, they'll save it for matchups like these.
We’ll also find out tomorrow whether David Bell is fit for action. Bell was a freakishly better hitter against left-handers in '05, but has missed most of the spring with a back injury. Manuel could fill out a completely reshuffled lineup card, which could include sliding Chase Utley out of the cleanup spot.