Notes: Howard's contact issue
First baseman is striking out at record-setting pace in '07
ATLANTA -- Fact: Ryan Howard leads the National League with 111 RBIs, and his 36 home runs rank second to Milwaukee's Prince Fielder.Fact: Howard also paces the NL with 168 strikeouts, continuing a historic pace he'd rather avoid. Despite his mammoth home runs, Howard hasn't made nearly as much contact as in 2006, when a .313 average masked 181 whiffs. Howard simply hasn't put the ball in play as frequently. The big guy could shatter Adam Dunn's single-season whiff mark of 195, set in 2004, and is on pace for 203 punch outs. Howard has fanned at a rate of once per 2.63 at-bats, more than the once in 3.21 plate appearances last season. He has struck out three or more times in 22 games this season, twice as many as all of last season. "He's definitely not seeing the ball good," manager Charlie Manuel said. "His hands are coming down. If you're striding, your bat will flatten out but your hands should still be up. He was kind of drifting his hands forward. Once they come down, it's hard for them to get back up." Pitching help arrives: More pitching reinforcements arrived on Labor Day, with lefty Fabio Castro joining the bullpen. Righties Geoff Geary and John Ennis are expected to arrive Tuesday, with Triple-A Ottawa having finished their season. Righty Scott Mathieson, who had been making progress in his return from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, will visit team doctor Michael Ciccotti on Tuesday instead of bringing his high-90s fastball to the Phillies. The team had hoped to use him in the later innings. "You can add all the pitching you want, but the bottom line is can you hold them?" Manuel said, referencing a blown 5-0 lead in Sunday's finale against Florida. The Phillies pressing need in September has focused on sixth and seventh-inning relief help, to get the ball to Tom Gordon and Brett Myers. Lefty J.C. Romero has been reliable, but needs a righty complement. Antonio Alfonseca and Jose Mesa have a combined 28.42 ERA in their last 6 1/3 innings. Doubling up: Chase Utley stroked his 43rd double of the season on Monday, setting a franchise record for doubles by a second baseman. He passed Bert Niehoff, who established the mark in 1916. Hall of Famer Chuck Klein has the overall record of 59, hit in 1930. Battered Abe: Abraham Nunez has had some interesting plate appearances. On May 24 against Florida, Nunez suffered a mild concussion after being socked in the face by Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo, who inadvertantly struck him after throwing to second base trying to catch Jimmy Rollins stealing. Nunez hurt himself in the sixth inning of Monday's loss when he fouled a ball into the dirt that bounced and hit him in the lip. He stayed in the game and wound up striking out.
Goodbye old friend: The Danville (Va.) Braves, Atlanta's Rookie League affiliate, held a moment of silence for longtime Minor League coach Mel Roberts, who passed away Saturday at age 64.The loss was felt in the Phillies dugout, as well. Roberts had served as manager of the Spartanburg Phillies from 1988-1991, and became known as "Mr. Spartanburg Baseball." He was also the first-base coach for the Phillies from 1992-95, including the National League pennant year of 1993. "He was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet," said Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson, an outfielder who learned from Roberts in Philadelphia (1993-94). "I don't think I ever saw him without a smile on his face." Philling In: Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will interview for Houston's general manager vacancy later this week. This will be his fourth GM interview, after Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Baltimore. ... Outfielder Shane Victorino won't see action until at least this weekend, in hopes that his strained right calf mends. The switch-hitter has made six appearances since last starting on Aug. 24. His spot has been taken by Jayson Werth, who has hit .409 (38-for-93) with three homers, eight doubles and 21 RBIs in 30 games. ... Outfielder Michael Bourn said Monday that he's still at least two weeks away from rejoining the Major League club. He had been rehabbing his severely sprained left ankle in Clearwater, Fla. ... Rollins started every game this season. He could become the first Phillies player to start all 162 games since Pete Rose did it in 1982. Coming up: The Phillies will send Kyle Lohse to the mound to face right-hander Buddy Carlyle in the second of a three-game series against the Braves. First pitch is set for 7:35 p.m. ET.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.