Slow Start Doesn't Surprise Howard

Ryan Howard is checking out the view from the bench for a couple of days in hopes it will shake him out of his slump. For Howard though, he says a slow start is nothing new and nothing to worry about.

The first month of the season never has been kind to Ryan Howard.

"You know, you can call my mom and she'll tell you I've never hit good in April," Howard said. "She'll take it all the way back to high school, I'm sure. I don't know."

But Phillies manager Charlie Manuel didn't consult Cheryl Howard - or consider her son's .237 average and 12 homers in 245 career April at-bats - before removing him from the lineup for Thursday's finale of a two-game series against the Brewers and Friday's opener of a three-game series in Pittsburgh.

He only looked at Howard's body language.

"I think he needs a break," Manuel said before Howard entered as a pinch-hitter and struck out twice in the final two innings to drop his average to .176 with 34 strikeouts in 85 at-bats. "I think he's trying too hard. He thinks that in one swing he can get 10 hits. I didn't want to sit him down, but I think it's time."

Well, we didn't call Howard's mom either, but we did pull up some stats going back to the 2005 season to see how Ryan Howard has performed in the first month of the season.

Ryan Howard's April numbers

2005 Scranton 4 14 .333 75 12 25 8 0 0 15 26
2006 Philadelphia 5 12 .306 85 12 26 1 0 0 12 24
2007 Philadelphia 3 13 .221 77 10 17 4 0 0 23 28
2008 Philadelphia 4 9 .173 81 12 14 2 0 0 15 33
TOTALS 16 48 .258 318 46 82 15 0 0 65 111

Over the past 11 games, Howard is batting .146 (6-for-41) with 17 strikeouts. Even worse, over the past seven games, he's 3-for-28 (.107) with 11 whiffs. And since a third-inning groundout Wednesday night, he has struck out in four consecutive at-bats.

"If he's not at (rock) bottom," Manuel said, "he's getting close."

So, Howard will watch from the bench again Friday against Pirates lefty Zach Duke. Greg Dobbs, who has eight hits in his last 16 at-bats, likely will make a second straight start at first base.

"It's frustrating when you go out and you're not comfortable and not seeing the ball," Howard said. "You want to help your team, and grounding out's not going to help the team. I'll chill out for a day or two and go from there. Hopefully, it will start clicking, and I'll go on a tear."

PHILLIES 3, BREWERS 1: Pat Burrell's two-run double in the seventh inning broke a tie and gave the Phillies a split-salvaging victory in their two-game series at Miller Park. Burrell established a franchise record for RBIs in April with his 24th. The mark was previously held by Von Hayes (22 in 1989). Jamie Moyer pitched six strong innings for the Phillies, allowing one run on eight hits and three walks. Chase Utley picked up three hits for the Phillies. He has reached base in 16 straight games.

Phillies Notebook:

  • Jimmy Rollins was expected to take batting practice Thursday at the Phillies' spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla., a small step in the MVP shortstop's recovery from a sprained left ankle that landed him on the disabled list last Sunday. Results from the batting practice session weren't immediately available. A timetable for Rollins to go on a minor league rehabilitation assignment won't be established until his ankle responds to more physical activity. Rollins can't be activated until at least May 5.
  • Tom Gordon's ability to sustain his effectiveness was called into question after a nightmarish Opening Day performance. But since he allowed five runs in the ninth inning of the Phillies' season opener against Washington, Gordon has posted a 2.16 ERA in eight appearances. On Thursday, he inherited a two-on, none-out jam from starter Jamie Moyer and escaped the inning without allowing a run. "All along (in spring training), I knew my curveball felt good," said Gordon, who threw three straight breaking pitches to strike out Tony Gwynn Jr. "It was just a matter of being able to throw it three times in a row. How many times have I been able to do that over the last couple years? When you feel healthy, you're able to throw those pitches in the spots that you need to throw them."
  • Jayson Werth was despondent Wednesday night after his seventh-inning baserunning gaffe and ninth-inning strikeout contributed to a Phillies loss. His game-tying home run Thursday left him in a better mood. "I took that loss pretty hard (Wednesday) night and probably stayed up later than I should've thinking about it," said Werth, who hit a solo homer against Milwaukee's Jeff Suppan in the sixth inning Thursday. "But that's the beauty of this. You get another game tomorrow. You can't let things bother you too much. Once you go to sleep and wake up, it's a new day."
  • Chase Utley beat the Brewers' shifted defense with three hits Thursday. Milwaukee is the only team that employs a shift against the lefty-swinging Utley. Most teams shift their defense toward right field against lefty-swinging Phillies 1B Ryan Howard. "You can't really change anything," Utley said of contending with the shift. "That's what they want."
  • Geoff Jenkins went 0-for-7 with a walk and two strikeouts in his two-game return to Milwaukee. Jenkins, who spent the past 10 seasons with the Brewers, got an ovation before nearly every at-bat, and a highlight video was played before Wednesday night's series opener at Miller Park. Jenkins ranks second on the Brewers' all-time list with 212 home runs, behind only Hall of Famer Robin Yount (251).

The Numbers Game: 11 The number of quality starts by Phillies pitchers in 18 games through Saturday night, third-most in the National League. The Phillies' rotation was expected to be a question mark when the season started.

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