PITTSBURGH -- If the Phillies are going to make a move to get back in the playoff chase, they have to do it soon.
Entering play on Wednesday, the Phils trailed Atlanta in the National League East by 9 1/2 games and trailed St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL Wild Card standings by eight games.
"The question to me is whether we are capable of running off a winning streak," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I've said it all year long, the inconsistent part of our club … are we capable? Can we put together 12 out of 16 [wins]? It's not impossible, but at the same time, I would question that.
"We're going to have to play like [heck]. We have to play right, fundamentally well. We have to hit, we have to pitch and catch the ball. But I've been saying that two years now, and I'm still saying the same thing."
The Phillies are in the midst of a three-game series with the NL Central-leading Pirates. Then they have a stretch of games leading up to the All-Star break largely against teams in front of them in the NL East: Three games with Atlanta, four with Washington and then three games with the Chicago White Sox prior to the three day All-Star break.
That stretch of games will probably determine whether the Phils will be sellers or buyers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"We can't let ourselves get too far behind," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It's just too much of a haul. It's at the point where we've got to start making some hay.
"What's been disappointing for us this year is the fact that we generally have had most of our guys on the field for most of the time. Not the whole time, we lost Chase Utley and we lost Roy Halladay, but we felt like we'd be playing a little better baseball, overall, than we have. We haven't, and that happens.
"Every single day it's an assessment of what's best for the club, what might be best for the club. Right now, we're putting ourselves in a position to be prepared for anything. Whether we have to go right, left or up or down, and we kind of have to be prepared for everything."
Manuel gives Howard break to rest knee
PITTSBURGH -- Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard snapped an 0-for-22 slump, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, during Philadelphia's 3-1 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night.
Howard has been struggling with an aching left knee and was not in the starting lineup for Wednesday night's game.
"I thought I'd let him rest today and give him a day off," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Let his knee get a break. When Ryan's knee is bothering him and a lefty is pitching, I think that's a good time to give him a blow, and that's kind of what we've been doing. He'll be in there tomorrow in the day game, and then we'll go home."
"It was a little sore last night," Howard said. "When I show up, the lineup is made up and that's what Charlie Manuel feels like he's got to go with that day."
Howard was benched for two days over the weekend in Los Angeles to rest his knee and to try to correct some mechanical flaws in his swing.
"The breaks help," Howard explained. "I had two days off in Los Angeles, and usually after an off-day, it feels better. It's definitely something that's beneficial, I think."
The knee has been a problem for Howard and he says he will deal with it as best he can.
De Fratus' mindset key to success in tight spot
PITTSBURGH -- The shaky Phillies bullpen was able to preserve a 3-1 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night.
The bullpen entered the game ranked 28th among all Major League teams in opponents' batting average (.270), 29th in ERA (4.60) and last in inherited runners-scored percentage (40.4). Since June 7, seven of the Phillies' 14 losses have been charged to the bullpen.
Right-hander Justin De Fratus has had a particularly rough stretch, as he was tagged with three of the seven losses during that span.
De Fratus came up big in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's win over the Pirates when he struck out Jordy Mercer with the bases loaded to end a Pirates threat.
"I was actually very calm," De Fratus explained. "I've been in that situation before, and when you've failed before and you've already felt that feeling, there is nothing to be afraid of anymore. It's unfortunate that you do have to fail to learn that lesson, but I didn't die, so there is nothing to be worried about out there. You just throw the ball to the plate as hard as you can and let's go.
"That feeling at the end of that inning, that's why us relievers play baseball, that feeling, that's the feeling we chase, and the only way to get that feeling is to get out of a jam."
• Phillies outfielder Delmon Young entered Wednesday night two hits shy of 1,000 for his career. Currently there are only 85 active players in the Majors with 1,000 or more career hits, including four Phillies: Michael Young (2,314), Jimmy Rollins (2,107), Utley (1,332) and Howard (1, 174).
• The Phillies have lost seven of their last eight games in which they score three runs or less. Overall, they are just 10-35 when scoring three runs or less this season.
George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.