It appears Ryan Howard will no longer be automatically penciled into the Philadelphia Phillies' lineup.
Maybe he should be Thursday.
No player has homered more off San Francisco Giants veteran Tim Hudson, who will start opposite Cole Hamels, but Howard hasn't gone deep at home in nearly two months and the stumbling Phillies are pointing toward a youth movement.
The man who previously hit behind Howard burned his former team Wednesday. Hunter Pence delivered a bases-clearing double off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning to give San Francisco a 3-1 victory.
The Giants (57-44) have won six of seven to take a two-game lead atop the NL West and now seek their first four-game sweep since 2012. Philadelphia (43-58), which was swept in four at home by Atlanta to close June, has lost seven of eight.
Papelbon, among many high-priced Phillies rumored to be on the trading block, suffered his first loss since April 2 after being dealt his third blown save Tuesday.
While manager Ryne Sandberg may soon need a new closer, he's already looking at other options at first base even with Howard making $25 million this year. The 34-year-old former MVP has one homer in his last 28 games while batting .178.
"I know what Ryan Howard can do. I think it's also important to see what other guys can do," Sandberg told MLB's official website.
He started Darin Ruf at first Wednesday, a day after the power-hitting 27-year-old was called up, and Triple-A infielder Maikel Franco may soon get playing time there.
Howard, homerless in 19 home games since June 1, is on pace to finish with fewer than 30 home runs in a full season for the first time.
"There's frustration from the fans, frustration period. I have my own frustrations as well," he said. "You try to stay positive."
His seven homers off Hudson (8-6, 2.78 ERA) lead all active players and are tied with Carlos Delgado for the most all-time. Howard has faced him more than any pitcher, going 22 for 67 (.328).
Hudson benefited from eight days off before his outing Saturday, allowing one run in 7 1-3 innings in a 5-3 win at Miami. He was 0-4 with a 6.07 ERA in his final five starts before the All-Star break.
"Obviously, this time of year, extra rest is usually welcomed," the 39-year-old right-hander said.
The break helped Hudson, and it didn't cool off Hamels (4-5, 2.83). The left-hander yielded a run and four hits in seven innings Saturday, walking none and striking out nine in a 2-1 win at Atlanta.
Hamels, whose 1.81 ERA since June 1 is fourth-best among NL starters, relied less on his go-to changeup because his newfound two-seam fastball was so effective.
"It's something I've been working on the past couple of games," Hamels said. "... When you're actually able to have the results from it, you get a little bit more giddy to get out there again and go out and throw that same pitch."
He now looks to reach .500 for the first time since 2012. Hamels threw eight scoreless innings the last time he faced the Giants in a 2-1 loss Aug. 1.
Hudson is 7-2 with a 3.68 ERA in his last 13 outings against the Phillies.
Carlos Ruiz has one hit in his last 11 at_bats against Hudson but was 2 for 4 on Wednesday in his first game since suffering a concussion June 26.
While Buster Posey is 7 for 11 off Hamels, Pence is 6 for 17 against him and has hit .400 with eight RBIs in six games since the break.
"Pence is amazing," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He has so much energy and he's relentless. We're lucky to have him."
The Associated Press News Service
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