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September 15, 2016

With end nearing, Ryan Howard will play in final two weekend series in South Philly

Jimmy Rollins got a thunderous ovation when he returned to Citizens Bank Park for the first time in a different uniform 13 months ago.

Chase Utley received an extended ovation, and then two curtain calls after launching a pair of home runs, when he returned to South Philly as a Los Angeles Dodger last month.

Shane Victorino, Jim Thome, and many others have been celebrated upon their returns, too.

But there’s a chance that Ryan Howard won’t get that same opportunity until he’s inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. Howard, who will have his team option declined after the World Series, will be a free agent for the first time in his career and there are no guarantees he’ll find a landing spot, and if he does, it could very well be with an American League team.

So Pete Mackanin said prior to Thursday’s game against the Pirates that it’s his “plan” to play Howard in all three home games at Citizens Bank Park this weekend and then again in the final three games of the season, also at home, against the New York Mets to send the former MVP out in style.

“This is possibly his last year here,” Mackanin said.

When the month began, Mackanin said he planned to play Tommy Joseph more at first base in an effort to see more of the younger half of the first base timeshare. But he’s reversed course, knowing that this could be it for Howard.

“I just kept thinking about it, the whole year I’ve been thinking about it, that situation,” Mackanin said. “Especially as well as he’s handled the whole thing, he’s been so good about the whole thing, I want to give him something.”

Mackanin will start Howard in each of the final two home weekends, unless the team is matched up against a left-handed starter.

“Another 20-25 at-bats won’t matter for Joseph,” Mackanin said.

Phillies first-year general manager Matt Klentak was asked if the team had any specific plans to honor Howard in the final weekend of the regular season. But since they won’t have declined his option yet, it’s not an easy thing to pull off, of course.

“We’re not going to announce anything formally until the end of the season, I think that would be irresponsible and premature,” Klentak said. “But I think Phillies fans are smart and they know and generally understand what’s going on. I think as we’ve seen the second half play out, and you guys have seen it, I think fans are, every time Howard comes to the plate, they’re recognizing that maybe it’s getting closer to the end. They want to express their appreciation for what Ryan has meant to this franchise. And my hope would be in the final homestand, those last three games against the Mets at the end, we’ll be able to do something to make sure that Ryan gets the proper end to the season that he deserves.”

Could fans honor Howard with a rousing reception that would rival the ones fellow franchise icons Utley and Rollins received?

“I don’t know, I hope they do, I hope they give him as much as they gave (Utley and Rollins),” Mackanin said. “He’s really meant a lot to this organization.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21