NEW YORK - If the Phillies are unable to finish off their playoff charge, Ryan Howard's season could be cut a little short.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel hinted Tuesday that Howard might be shut down early if the team is eliminated from postseason contention. The big first baseman was out until July 6 while recovering from offseason surgery on his left Achilles and is batting .225 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs.
"I think in some ways he needs at-bats but at the same time, too, if we get to the point where everything's not helping him, then that's different," Manuel said. "I think it's been tough on him really and I think that even he doesn't realize the importance of his back foot being strong."
Howard and fellow slugger Chase Utley both returned from injuries around midseason. Though neither player is putting up the sort of offensive numbers they're accustomed to, their presence has lengthened the lineup and helped boost the production of teammates such as Jimmy Rollins and John Mayberry Jr.
With ace Roy Halladay and All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz also back from the disabled list, the surging Phillies (74-74) are making a late push after their miserable first half. They had won nine of 12 to pull within 3½ games of St. Louis for the second National League wild card, though other teams were in their path.
With only 14 games remaining, however, it might be too late. And if the Phillies aren't able to make up enough ground, the five-time defending NL East champions may decide to let Howard take it easy at the end.
"I might do it, but I'm not going to say it right now. I could do it. We'll see," Manuel said. "I think the time that he missed not having spring training and things like that, I think it's affected him. And the type (of) injury that he had, I think it has affected him. I think it might take him some time. And if he gets through the season this year and he gets the winter off, we might want to work with him or something during the winter. I mean, he's right there close to Clearwater (Fla.) and we might be able to get him some work."
Howard was set to bat cleanup as usual Tuesday night before Philadelphia's game against the New York Mets was postponed because of inclement weather. The game was called about three hours before it was supposed to start and will be made up at 7:10 p.m. on Thursday, originally an off day for both clubs.
"For me, I'd just as soon play today. I don't know sometimes if sitting helps you or not," Manuel said.
Light rain was falling on a blustery evening at Citi Field, with a howling wind whipping through the ballpark under overcast skies. The forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the night.
Across town, the scheduled game between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees also was postponed.
Cole Hamels will pitch tonight for Philadelphia against Mets rookie Matt Harvey, slated to make his final start of the season. The Phillies bumped Tyler Cloyd from Tuesday to Thursday, when he will face fellow rookie Jeremy Hefner.
One player leading Philadelphia's recent charge has been Rollins, who homered off Cy Young contender R.A. Dickey and scored twice in Monday night's 3-1 victory over the Mets. The switch-hitting leadoff man, benched by Manuel late last month for not hustling, is batting .333 in September with six homers, 11 RBIs, 14 runs and three doubles. He is 6 for 6 on stolen-base attempts, too.
"I don't know if that motivated him. I think that he knows that he's made some mistakes," Manuel said. "He's definitely hustling more and things like that, but he's playing better. He's been really helping us."
Manuel said having Utley and Howard hitting behind him has made a difference for Rollins, who likes to get the Phillies going right off the bat.
"If you look back in what, the last couple weeks, he definitely has sparked the first inning. And when we can put a run on the board for any of our starters, that's big," Manuel said.