CLEARWATER, Fla. -- They were just two at-bats in an intrasquad game. In a couple of weeks, no one will remember them.
But for Ryan Howard, it was a good way to start the next phase of spring training.
The Phillies warmed up for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener with an intrasquad game Tuesday afternoon at Bright House Field. The team led by minor-league manager Chris Truby posted a 7-2 win over the team managed by minor-league instructor Andy Abad.
Howard singled and homered for the winning side.
Both hits came against a left-handed pitcher. He singled against Jesse Biddle in the first inning and smacked a long homer to dead center off Cesar Jimenez later in the game.
Howard’s work against left-handed pitching is always a hot-button issue. He hit just .173 (31 for 179) with 84 strikeouts against lefties the last two seasons. Of course, Howard didn’t have a healthy left leg the last two seasons. Finally healthy on his left side, he believes he will have the balance at the plate needed to handle lefties better.
He looked good Tuesday.
He hit a breaking ball from Biddle for a single and later fought back from an 0-2 count and drove a 2-2 fastball over the centerfield wall against Jimenez
Howard was reluctant to talk much about his performance against the two lefties.
“I don’t like answering those questions because I just like going out here and trying to do my thing,” he said. “This year I really don’t want to answer them. I feel fine. It’s like that whole superstition thing.
“It’s just a work in progress. It’s all about trying to progress all through spring training, work on different things, see different things, feel different things early on.”
Manager Ryne Sandberg revealed that Howard has asked to see a significant amount of lefty pitching this spring.
Sandberg will oblige. He believes Howard can hit lefties consistently if he doesn’t chase pitches off the plate.
“If he makes the left-handers throw strikes, in my opinion he can hit balls in the strike zone,” Sandberg said.
“Watching him last year, with his swing and his plate coverage, his ability to go to left-center field with the pitch away, I think he can get good contact on balls in the strike zone. Balls out of the zone nobody can hit. So for him to just be patient, see the ball, make the left-handers throw strikes – that’s key.”
Howard is in his best physical condition in several years. That has come in handy in Sandberg’s first camp as manager.
“A lot of sweat,” Howard said. “The camp itself has been great. The workload has been a lot more than it’s been in years past. But we’re going out, getting work in and guys are definitely sweating a lot more.”