Howard Anxious To Feed On Lefties

If there is any red flag anywhere near Ryan Howard, it would be that he can't hit left-handers. This spring, Howard is looking to put that bad wrap behind him to show he can handle whatever is thrown at him.

First baseman Ryan Howard is responding to concerns about a possible sophomore slump with his best weapon - the long ball.

In his first spring training game, Howard went 4-for-4 with a pair of tape-measure homers. The second of the homers came against veteran Yankees left-hander Ron Villone, who challenged Howard with a high fastball and had it tattooed. The ball soared high and deep to right, landing in a pond outside of the ballpark for a three-run homer.

If Howard's Rookie of the Year performance of a season ago - 22 homers, 19 of which came after the All-Star break - had a flaw, it came against left-handed pitchers. In 61 at-bats against southpaws, he hit .148 with one home run and 26 strikeouts.

"As soon as I touched home plate, I knew that question was coming," Howard said. "As far as hitting left-handers, I think it's a matter of seeing them down here. The more I see them, the more things I can pick up and take into the season."

In the final weeks of last season, Howard actually made a subtle adjustment in his stance against left-handed pitchers that reaped benefits, although they didn't show up in the final statistics. He abandoned the crouched stance of the previous two seasons and stood more upright, a change that the coaching staff believes allows Howard to keep his eyes on a level plane and will result in more contact.

Manager Charlie Manuel said that Howard might get the occasional day off against a tough left-handed starting pitcher, but if he has enough success against them this spring, things could change.

"He's our starting first baseman," Manuel said. "And if he keeps crushing them like that, he might not ever get a day off."

Manuel plans on giving Howard plenty of at bats against left-handers this spring. It's likely that Howard will start Wednesday when the Devil Rays come to Clearwater and have left-hander Scott Kazmir on the mound.

To start the spring, Howard was felled by the flu, that had him spiking a fever as high as 103 degrees. His first game back was when he launched his two long homeruns out of BrightHouse Networks Field. Howard's comeback from his sick bed wasn't lost on Jimmy Rollins. "Keep him sick all year long. I have this new virus, Ryan, I want you to try it," joked Rollins.

Howard by the numbers: 42.5 percent - Percentage of hits Ryan Howard had when he put the ball in play last season (90 hits in 312 at-bats, minus 100 strikeouts).

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