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04/27/08 1:15 PM ET
Homer helps Howard get out of funk
Manager, teammates pleased to see slugger's power stroke
By Chris Adamski / Special to MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Ultimately, it was only a 1-for-4 evening. But in the grand scheme, that doesn't matter much to Phillies slugger Ryan Howard -- even if the perfectionist still comes out in him.
Mired in a season-long slump heading into Saturday night's game in Pittsburgh, Howard had been held out of the lineup by manager Charlie Manuel for the previous two games to collect his thoughts. But in his first at-bat in the first inning, Howard bashed a 1-2 pitch from Pirates starter Matt Morris to center field for his first home run and RBI since April 17.
"I probably swung at ball four and kind of missed the last pitch," Howard said, referring to ensuing at-bats on Saturday when he walked, struck out twice and flew out to right. "[But] all in all, I'll look at the positive. I'll take the home run. But even with that aside, I felt a little better at the plate."
Howard entered the contest batting only .174 with four homers, nine RBIs and 35 strikeouts in 86 at-bats. He has only three hits and 14 strikeouts in his previous 29 at-bats. Though he pinch-hit Thursday and Friday, Howard said the time off did him well.
"I had some good swings in batting practice [Friday] and I put in some work [Thursday] in Milwaukee as well," Howard said. "[Saturday] I just went out there and nice and loose, just trying to see it and just spread it around a little bit, trying to carry it over to the game."
Howard, the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player, hit .291 with 105 home runs and 285 RBIs over the past two seasons. During his breakout '06 season, he hit .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs, with a .659 slugging percentage and .425 on-base percentage.
Manuel believes Howard, 28, is close to recapturing that form.
"In batting practice, the ball has been jumping off his bat better," Manuel said. "He's getting his timing back. He got jammed on that last ball [Saturday] that he skied to right field, but at the same time, that's good, because he will get quicker with his hands. There's no sense in worrying about that, because he stayed on he ball and hit it.
"It's a matter of time. The only thing Ryan has to do is go up see the ball, get a good ball to hit and put the ball in play, hit the ball, because he's strong. Two years ago, when he had that huge year, that's what he did."
Howard, who was in the lineup again Sunday, certainly has the support of his teammates. After all, the season is not even a month old. Plus, it helps that the Phils have a winning record and were only a half-game out of first place in the NL East entering Sunday.
"He'll be fine," said Kyle Kendrick, the winning pitcher on Saturday. "He's a good hitter, a great hitter. He'll be fine. It was nice to be able to see that, him get the home run. He'll be fine."
Another bonus in terms of the team showing patience in one of its biggest stars is the fact that the offense is producing without as much contribution from him. Chase Utley and Pat Burrell are off to white-hot starts, and other hitters are performing well, too.
"A lot of it can be a snowball effect, good or bad," Howard said. "All it takes is one day, and you just try and take something positive each day and just keep putting it together, and then you're rolling."