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March 10, 2016

Phils Notes: Howard meets with MLB investigators, Franco stays hot

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Ryan Howard hasn’t been seen much in camp in the last week.

He was sent home last Saturday with the flu-like symptoms that have touched nearly everyone in the Phillies clubhouse in the last two weeks. He was gone again on Thursday, for what the team announced as having been “excused for personal reasons.”

Those reasons? Howard was meeting with Major League Baseball investigators concerning the Al Jazeera America report this winter that linked him to performance-enhancing drugs, according to a baseball source.

“He needs to get his bat going,” Mackanin said of Howard, who has played in just three games so far this spring. “He needs to get at-bats. It's getting later and later.”

The fact that MLB is running its own investigation isn’t actually news: they made their intentions known shortly after the Al Jazeera report aired in late December. Upon arrival to camp last month, Howard was asked if he spoke with anyone in the league regarding the story.

“I haven't spoken to anybody as of yet,” Howard said after the team’s first workout last month. “I guess there's an investigation underway, so I'm sure that's probably going to take place.”

Last month, Howard kept his comments to a minimum regarding the report, which linked him to Delta-2, a hormone supplement that is banned by MLB. Howard’s opinion was made very clear in the 25-page defamation lawsuit he filed against Al Jazeera a little more than a week after the televised report aired.

“With the actions being taken as far as the litigation and all of that kind stuff, I’m just going to leave it at that,” Howard said last month. “Because the process is underway and I’ll let the process take care it itself.”

But how did he think his name even got involved?

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” he said. “I really can’t tell you. I really don’t know.”

Howard will be back in the Phillies lineup for the first time in a week on Friday in Lake Buena Vista against Kyle Kendrick and the Atlanta Braves. Howard will serve as the designated hitter, manager Pete Mackanin said following a 6-6 tie with the Detroit Tigers on Thursday.

Howard hasn’t appeared in a game since striking out twice in the same inning last Friday against the Braves when he was pulled with flu-like symptoms.

“He needs to get his bat going,” Mackanin said of Howard, who has played in just three games so far this spring. “He needs to get at-bats. It's getting later and later.”

According to an ESPN report in late January, MLB is working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in conducting its report into Al Jazeera’s claims.

Franco hits, Nola is hit

Maikel Franco, who failed to hit a home run in 28 spring games with the Phillies in 2014 and 2015, slugged a pair off Jordan Zimmermann in the Phillies 6-6 tie with the Tigers on Thursday.

Franco has four home runs in eight games this spring. He’s hitting .350 (7-for-20).

“He looks so much different than he has in past springs,” Mackanin said. “I think he feels like he's in for a big year and I'm hoping he is. I'm going to have to tell all our guys, 'If you hit one home run, you have to hit two.' That seems to be the standard.”

Both Darin Ruf and Cameron Rupp hit a pair of home runs a day earlier in split squad games with the Orioles and Twins.

On Thursday, Aaron Nola was the beneficiary of Franco’s home runs. He served up one of his own – a wind-aided two-run shot from James McCann (it was literally a fly ball that landed over the fence because of the wind) but he also struggled with corralling his stuff in needing 65 pitches to get through 2 2/3 innings.

“He didn't have his command,” Mackanin said. “He was all over the place. His stuff was there. He just didn't make good pitches.”

PHIL-INS: Jerad Eickhoff (thumb fracture) is scheduled to pitch three innings in a minor-league game at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater on Saturday. Eickhoff has been sidelined the start of camp, but the team is confident he’ll be in the Opening Day rotation. “We're being optimistic about that,” Mackanin said. “He has no pain. He has no problems.” … Charlie Morton had originally been scheduled to start on Friday against the Atlanta Braves but was instead scratched as the latest victim of flu-like symptoms in the clubhouse. David Buchanan will start in his place in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves while Vince Velasquez will follow on Saturday against the Blue Jays in Clearwater.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21