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PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard must have fond memories of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Every time he's there, he seems to be heading for the Major Leagues. It happened again on Friday afternoon, when the slugging first baseman was summoned from a road trip to
replace Jim Thome, who went on the 15-day disabled list.
He was also there in May for his first callup this season.
"It was pretty much the same," Howard said. "I was sitting in my hotel looking at my computer, and the phone rang. Then it was off to the airport."
Howard will receive the bulk of the starts in Thome's stead, with the hope that he can produce some of the monstrous numbers he's been putting up for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- a .371 average with 16 homers and 54 RBIs.
"It's always great to get back up here and get in the swing of things," Howard said.
Howard struggled in his first stint with the Phillies, batting .214 (6-for-28) with one homer and one RBI.
No matter. His Minor League performance has restored much of the interest in him. As Philadelphia's best hitting prospect, the timing is perfect for Howard to be with the big-league club. Not only can he help the Phillies, but he can also increase his value as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
Despite Thome's struggles, he's signed through 2008, blocking Howard. General manager Ed Wade said the Phillies one day will have to deal with having two players at one
position -- except today isn't that day.
Without getting into specifics, Wade said Howard's name comes up often in trade discussions.
"If we got to the point of seriously talking of Ryan, there would be significant interest," Wade said.
The Phillies aren't there yet.
"I want to keep playing the way I was playing at Scranton," Howard said. "I want to help the team, but stay within myself in doing it."
One more to go?
The number of starts left for Vicente Padilla appears to be down to one.
A poor effort on July 6 against the Pirates could lead to a bullpen assignment or Minor League stint. His latest tough outing came Friday, when he allowed four runs on nine hits and two walks in a 9-1 loss to Atlanta.
That prompted the question that has come up every five days for nearly a month: How long can you keep Padilla out there?
"He'll make the next start, and then we'll see how it goes," said manager Charlie Manuel.
Padilla is 3-8 with a 6.96 ERA, the second-highest among National League starters who have made at least 12 starts -- behind Cincinnati's Eric Milton. The right-hander has lasted more than 5 2/3 innings just once.
Manuel said Padilla, who doesn't speak to the media, doesn't necessarily communicate with him, either. But he knows what's at stake with each start.
"I'm sure he knows," said Manuel. "He knows we're trying to get him going. I know that. We need pitching."
Another struggle might force the Phillies to spend the All-Star break looking for alternatives.
Ryan Madson, currently thriving in the bullpen, is the leading choice. Gavin Floyd, currently struggling at Triple-A, likely isn't, according to Wade. If this were mid-August, Cole Hamels might be a realistic possibility.
Either way, more will be known in Pittsburgh.
While Pat Burrell should never be thrilled about going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, he should at least see it as a sign of better things to come.
Burrell suffered that fate Friday against John Smoltz and the Braves, then roared back Saturday with two hits, including a homer off Horacio Ramirez.
That was a repeat of what Burrell did June 25-26, when Boston's Matt Clement fanned him four times, and David Wells surrendered a homer and double to Burrell the next day.
"I haven't done much in the past couple of weeks, and striking out four times in a game is going to happen," Burrell said. "I've never had much success off Clement or Smoltz. It's no secret that I strike out a lot. You have to come back the next day and have a good attitude."
Worrell nearly ready:
Though he doesn't know the exact date of his return, Tim Worrell knows he'll be ready.
The veteran, who's been out since May 5 dealing with family-related personal issues, said he's good to go after five Minor League rehab appearances.
"I threw my pitches well," said Worrell. "[The rehab assignment] was a little bit more than a Spring Training atmosphere, which was good. I'm ready to go. I think what's left to get will come with more appearances.
"I'm not going to say I'm July-ready. It's more just getting back to the everyday routine."
Worrell threw a total of 7 1/3 innings between Class A Lakewood and Double-A Reading, allowing two earned runs on seven hits, and struck out nine. He was perfect at
Reading, which is a good sign.
A solid return from Worrell could start a bullpen chain reaction, and bump Madson into the starting rotation. That's a distinct possibility if Padilla doesn't figure
things out soon.
Coming up: Rookie Robinson Tejeda (1-1, 2.35 ERA), coming off a wild start, will get the nod in Sunday night's series finale against Atlanta's Jorge Sosa (4-1, 2.78 ERA).
Tejeda yielded five walks and two runs over four innings in Tuesday's 8-3 loss to the Mets.