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Ryan Howard scoffs at platoon talk

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Will Ryan Howard be a platoon player in 2014?

Will he sit against left-handed pitching?

Folks have been asking these questions all winter because Howard struggled mightily against left-handed pitching the last two seasons. His batting average against lefties over the span was .173 (31 for 179) and he struck out 84 times.

Howard believes a healthy left leg (see story) will allow him to be better against lefty pitching in 2014.

“Being able to now have two legs and being able to be a little more stable in the box, it will allow me to stay back a little bit longer and kind of see balls,” he said Saturday. “When my legs are going good and everything is going well I can hit lefties. It’s just a matter of being able to be stable in the box.”

Howard hit .264 with an .826 OPS against lefties in 2010. He has struggled against lefties the last three seasons, but crushed right-handers in one of those seasons (2011) and played on a compromised left leg the other two.

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg spoke extensively about Howard on Saturday. He said he hopes Howard will play 140 to 150 games this year. That indicates that Sandberg does not plan to platoon Howard. But would he if Howard doesn’t hit lefties?

“In the perfect world he hits right-handers and does some damage against left-handed pitching,” Sandberg said. “Now if there’s constant struggles and I need to make a change for the betterment of the team …

“But I want it the other way. I want him to hit everybody and be a presence in the middle of that lineup and then give him a blow now and then to keep him strong throughout the full season.”

In other words, Sandberg, at this moment, does not plan to platoon Howard. But when Howard gets a day off, you can bet it will come against a lefty and someone such as Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. or Kevin Frandsen will be in there. Howard is owed $85 million over the next three seasons. The Phils were 77-63 when he was in the lineup the last two seasons and 77-107 when he wasn’t. Any decision to platoon him won’t be made lightly and he will get plenty of time to prove he can’t hit lefties.

Howard said he does not even think about the possibility of being platooned.

“Why would I think about it?” he said. “That’s negative. If I think negative, if I think I can’t hit lefties, I might as well not go out there at all.”