3/14/2014 6:50 P.M. ET
Opposite-field homer a good sign for Howard
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- For baseball players, coming back from an injury is about more than just getting healthy again. It can be about correcting bad habits that were picked up while making allowances for being hurt.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is going through both processes as he moves further away from Achilles surgery after the 2011 season. He's been looking at video, trying to figure out just how far he should be from the plate, just how much he should crouch when he takes his stance. And he also has to be able to use his legs to drive the ball in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
A sign that he may be getting closer to where he needs to be took place in the sixth inning of the Phillies' 6-5 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field. He led off and blasted the first pitch he saw from Bucs reliever Jay Jackson for an opposite-field homer. It was his first home run of the spring.
"My legs feel cool. They feel good. It's still a work in progress, staying stretched and staying in front of it, but they feel good," Howard said. "You'll have aches and pain. When you have surgery, there's still residual stuff, normal stiffness. [But] I don't think you can hit the ball that far to the opposite field without using your legs."
Going the other way has always been a good sign for Howard. It's when he tries to pull everything that he's most vulnerable. Going back to using the whole field is a stated goal for him this spring.
The other part of that equation involves mechanics and that's been a work in progress. Manager Ryne Sandberg said Howard is a little less upright now, his feet are a little wider and he's moved up on the plate a little.
"The last two games, I think there's been more bat speed and a little more aggression," Sandberg said. "I've just noticed a little bit better approach. Saw a little bit more behind the swings.
"... I could see where he will use more of his legs as we go. That's important, because he got away from it the last couple years because of not being healthy."
Howard has also been working with guest instructor Greg "The Bull" Luzinski on shortening his swing.
"You always want to go up there with the shortest swing you possibly can. I'm just working to get back to that," Howard said.
Hamels to be cautious in recovery from tendinitis
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Left-hander Cole Hamels, who is coming back from shoulder tendinitis, said Friday he felt no ill effects from his 20-pitch bullpen session two days earlier, but that he intends to proceed with caution.
Hamels' next time to throw on the side is Sunday.
"I feel really good," Hamels said. "I don't want to be in this situation. I want to come to Spring Training healthy and be able to open the season Opening Day. But I've seen guys [who have] come back [and] really haven't addressed the injuries, thinking it might go away. I'm just trying to be as smart as I possibly can so when I am able to go out, I'm going to be competitive and effective -- not come in and not do as well as I would like and cost the team games and have to go on the DL, because things aren't working out. I want to be there and I want to be there for the remainder of the season.
"Everything's going really well right now. The difficult part is trying to push it and not push too hard, finding that middle ground where the intensity can be there, and you're putting yourself in a good position to keep pace so that you can keep the schedule."
Hamels said he'd still like to appear in a game before the end of Spring Training.
Manship attempts to solidify roster spot
BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Spring Training opened, right-hander and non-roster invitee Jeff Manship appeared to be ticketed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. It still may end up that way, but injuries have created openings and Manship has taken advantage of that.
Manship started and gave up two runs on six hits in four innings of the Phillies' 6-5 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field on Friday, keeping his hopes very much alive in the process.
"Good," said pitching coach Bob McClure, when asked about his impressions of the 29-year-old. "This time out wasn't as easy for him. His control wasn't as good as it's been. And he showed me he can still pitch without having his best control. Those are the things you like to see, because you don't always go out there with your best command, your best stuff. And when you can still pitch like that and change speeds, that shows me a lot."
With Cole Hamels sidelined by shoulder tendinitis and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez also a health concern, there appears to be one opening in the rotation after Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez. Manship, who was signed as a Minor League free agent after pitching in the Rockies system last year, appears to be competing with Sean O'Sullivan, David Buchanan and Mario Hollands, all non-roster invitees as well.
"I still need to handle my business out there and throw well," said Manship, who has a 2.45 ERA after four spring outings, two of them starts. "But yeah, more opportunities are out there now, which inspires me to work even harder to get one of those spots, because I know what's at stake.
"I try not to think too much about it. I could do really well the rest of spring and still get sent down. I don't know what's going to happen. I just have to go out day-to-day and work hard and basically just compete. Try to earn a spot and hopefully they'll give me that spot."
• Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who had been benched for three days by manager Ryne Sandberg, was in the lineup against the Pirates on Friday. He's also scheduled to make the trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for Saturday night's game against the defending world champion Red Sox.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.