By Michael Donovan

As the Phillies’ season runs out of the gas that propelled their 24-17 start, fans are wondering what in the world is Ryan Howard doing still on the roster?

The 36-year-old Howard, one of the most prolific hitters in Phillies history, continues to sit and watch his replacement, Tommy Joseph, play first base.

Howard has had 166 at-bats and has slugged 10 homers, driven in 21 runs but is averaging an anemic .145!

Surely, there is someone in the minors who could help the team get out of its ditch.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin benched Howard about two weeks ago. Joseph then made the decision look even better by crushing two more home runs in that game, giving him seven home runs in his first 69 plate appearances with the Phillies.

Howard had already been benched for what appeared to be the short term earlier in the month. Now, Mackanin has told the veteran slugger he can’t afford to sit Joseph.

“I can’t say enough about Tommy Joseph,” Mackanin told reporters Friday. “I talked to (Ryan) today and I told him, ‘I’ve got to go with Tommy Joseph right now.’ I can’t sit Tommy Joseph.”

The Phils still owes Howard the remainder of his $25 million 2016 salary, plus a $10 million buyout on a 2017 option.

“I flat out don’t like it,” Mackanin said. “I don’t like to have to deal with it because what [Howard’s] done for the organization over the years. Once again, this is another year where we’re looking to the future and Tommy Joseph is looking like he’s probably going to be in the future.”

Mackanin said he will try to get Howard some spot starts in addition to pinch-hitting duties, but on a team that is rebuilding, the slumping 36-year-old player is a memory of a glorious past, not part of the future. With 366 home runs and 1,155 RBIs, Howard is second on the all-time Phillies list to Mike Schmidt.

“I know he’s not happy,” Mackanin said. “Why would he be happy? I don’t blame him. After the career he’s had it’s hard to be told that I’m going with somebody else right now, but it is what it is and … it’s a competitive business.”

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