Phillies, Howard going down

The Phillies lost again last night. Cole Hamels gave up another couple of homers, giving him an astounding seven gopher balls after just three starts.

But Hamels and the Phils' fifth straight loss was not even the headline on what is quickly becoming the dismal start every Phillies fan feared.

The real story happened before the game.

Manager Ryne Sandberg rolled out a lineup that looked distinctly different - for one big reason.

The Big Piece is now a big afterthought.

Sandberg dropped struggling Ryan Howard to the No. 7 spot in his batting lineup. It was the first time Howard, a fixture in the cleanup spot for the Phils for much of the last decade, has hit that low in the lineup since April 21, 2006. Jeff Francoeur manned the cleanup spot vs. the Nationals.

It didn't make a lot of difference. Howard, who came into the game hitting a lowly .148 on 4-for-27 at the plate, went 1-for-3. Francoeus also was 1-for-3.

After the game, Howard seemed to take the demotion in stride.

"Do I think I can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can," Howard said. "But I think that's one of the things where youjust kind of look at it as an internal challenge to get back to where you know you are."

It's going to be a long season.