PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard is nicknamed "Big Piece" because he is supposed to carry the biggest bat in the Phillies lineup.
But while he entered Tuesday's game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park hitting a respectable .275, he has just a .377 slugging percentage. That ranked 21st out of 25 qualifying first basemen in the big leagues. He has just four doubles, one home run and six RBIs through 18 games.
Slow starts are common for Howard. He has a career .458 slugging percentage in April, which makes this his worst month. His overall slugging percentage is .548.
But a bad start this season has had Howard climbing uphill. He actually entered Tuesday hitting .357 (15-for-42) with four doubles, one home run, two RBIs, a .524 slugging percentage and an .887 OPS in his last 11 games.
"He'll get it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted when asked about Howard's power. "It's coming. Hopefully it starts tonight. It's still there. He's going to get it."
They need it to come quickly.
"He's our big power threat, yes," Manuel said. "Until somebody comes along and wants to jump in there and hit about 30 or 40 or can, yeah, Ryan is the guy that we depend on for power."
Manuel gives Utley routine rest Tuesday
PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel knows the question is coming as soon as he posts his lineup.
The moment he gives Chase Utley a day off like he got Tuesday against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park, Manuel will be asked if Utley is healthy. It is understandable. Utley missed much of the previous two seasons with knee problems.
While Utley is looking his healthiest in years, Manuel still wants to keep an eye on him.
"I want to make sure that I can get him off his feet every now and then," he said.
He also said the cold weather played a part in his decision. These are chilly nights in Philadelphia, and it might not be great for the knees.
Utley entered the night with an .882 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, which ranked fifth out of 21 qualifying second basemen in the big leagues.
Phils being patient with top prospect Biddle
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies had a chance to promote anybody in their system when left-hander John Lannan landed on the disabled list last week.
They never considered Double-A Reading left-hander Jesse Biddle, who is the organization's top prospect according to MLB.com.
It was not a surprise. Biddle had not pitched above Class A Clearwater before this season, and the Phillies would like to get him more experience before they even consider making a big jump.
But Biddle has certainly impressed in four starts with Reading. He dominated Monday in Harrisburg. He allowed one hit, two walks and struck out 16 in seven scoreless innings. He took a perfect game into the seventh inning before he walked a batter.
"The thing that stood out to me more than the number of strikeouts he had, through six innings he threw 73 pitches," Phillies director of player personnel Joe Jordan said. "I mean, he really just dominated the strike zone with four pitches. It wasn't that he went 90-95 pitches to get to that number. That's what was so impressive to me. The last time I saw him, which was his previous start in Reading, I saw more swings and misses with his fastball than I had ever seen. His stuff is just coming. It's coming, and his ability to use it is getting better. Everything came together last night. Literally, he had four pitches to go to and command of all of them, so they were in trouble."
Of course, the question about any top prospect is this: When will Phillies fans see him in a big league uniform?
"I think it's a little premature, but we're obviously going to keep our eyes on this, and we'll follow it very closely," Jordan said. "I think you go in with all of these guys, as far as their development plans with the plan, and the players alter it good or bad. Sometimes their ability, their performance, it will make it go one way or the other. Nothing is in stone. He's where he needs to be. He earned, after what he did in Clearwater last year, the right to go to Reading. So far he's done a great job. It's been a month. The weather is going to warm up, the hitters are going to catch up. I think that's, that's the way I look at it. He even said it last night: 'This is my kind of weather, the hitters don't like hitting in this weather.'
"We're going to follow it very closely. Because he's one of our best, if not our best. We all know that."
• Outfielder Delmon Young is scheduled to continue his rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is recovering from microfracture surgery in his right ankle. If he is healthy, he must be activated no later than May 11.
• Catcher Carlos Ruiz will play Friday and Saturday with Double-A Reading. He is expected to rejoin the Phillies on Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.