PHILADELPHIA -- Nobody knows when Ryan Howard will be back in the Phillies lineup, but when he returns he can count on one thing: the shift.
Teams have used a defensive shift -- three infielders positioned on the right side of second base -- against Howard for years. In fact, The Fielding Bible -- Volume III found teams shifted against Howard 461 times the previous two seasons, putting him behind only David Ortiz (486). The book's research also suggests the defensive shift reduces batting average on ground balls, short line drives and bunts by the top shifted hitters by 40 to 60 points, which means as long as Howard continues to pull the ball he will continue to face it.
And because of the shift's perceived success, more and more teams are doing it. The book found the shift at play 1,900 times each of the previous two seasons, but that number could double this season.
Nobody shifts more than Tampa Bay, which shifted 171 times as of last week. The Phillies? They shifted just once.
So what gives?
"We buy into the shift," said Phillies first base coach Sam Perlozzo, who is the team's infield instructor and sets up the team's defense during games. "What you don't see is we don't always send the shortstop all the way to the other side. So it's a shift. It just doesn't play like the one where you're sending the guy way over."
Perlozzo gets spray charts for every hitter on every team, which shows where each hitter is inclined to hit the ball. Certain pitchers are more particular about their defensive placement. Roy Halladay is very particular. Cliff Lee is not.
"A lot of it is individual to a pitcher," Perlozzo said. "It's easy to say we're going to shift him if we know we're going to pound the hitter inside. But if we're going to stay away, then it doesn't do any good. I'll check with Doc almost every time he pitches. He'll tell me he's going to pound a guy inside so he wants a guy in the hole. And he'll say don't put the shortstop on the other side of second. Keep him just on the inside of the bag. So I'll tell our second baseman, if the ball goes up the middle or to your right, don't worry about it. If Doc says that's what he wants, that's what we're going to do. We're not going to let that ball get in the hole."
Perlozzo talks to his infielders before the game. For Monday's game against the Houston Astros, he might approach second baseman Freddy Galvis and say, "This is where this guy has been hitting the ball against Joe Blanton."
If there is a definite pattern, Perlozzo will position Galvis accordingly.
Asked if he would play the traditional shift against Howard, Perlozzo said, "Absolutely. We'd send our guy back."
Manuel to give Lee longer leash on Tuesday
PHILADELPHIA -- Cliff Lee (0-1, 2.17 ERA) is set to take the mound Tuesday against the Astros, and manager Charlie Manuel said Monday that Lee will probably be able to throw between 85 and 100 pitches.
In last Wednesday's 10-6 loss to the Mets, Lee's first start since coming off the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique, Manuel limited Lee to 84 pitches over six innings. The complexion of the game changed upon Lee's exit, as Kyle Kendrick gave up five runs in the seventh, and Jose Contreras and Brian Sanches allowed one run apiece.
"Last time he pitched, I wanted to send him back out," Manuel said. "It crossed my mind, yes. But I didn't want to get him hurt."
The Astros have not yet named a starter for Tuesday's game.
Manuel keeping his eye on struggling 'pen
PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel admitted the Phillies' bullpen is the No. 1 thing he's got his eye on right now. And for good reason.
Though its performance in Philadelphia's series win against San Diego might have been encouraging, the bullpen's 5.23 ERA is still the worst in the National League.
Entering Monday, Phillies relievers were 2-5 with five blown saves and a 7.01 ERA in their last 20 appearances dating back to April 21, despite allowing just one run on four hits this past weekend. Antonio Bastardo has been getting better, Manuel said, but added the lefty still needs more work. In seven May appearances, Bastardo has allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings, striking out five and walking three. Chad Qualls, who had struggled, turned in two scoreless innings of work against the Padres.
Jose Contreras, who had right elbow surgery last September, has labored all season. The 40-year-old right-hander has an ERA of 9.00.
"We still think we can get him right," Manuel said.
Manuel said Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was available to pitch Monday. He appeared to grab his back while slipping off the mound on Sunday.
In Monday's 5-1 win over the Astros, Bastardo, Qualls and Papelbon teamed to throw two shutout innings. Bastardo struck out two in the eighth before giving way to Qualls and Papelbon, who struck out the side in the ninth.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.