CLEARWATER, Fla. – There have been no days off so far this spring for Ryan Howard, and the Phillies' slugger is fine with that.
“They put me in, I go out and play,” he said Thursday.
Howard missed all of last spring training, and half of the regular season, recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon in 2012. Manager Charlie Manuel wants Howard on the field often this spring so he will be ready to play -- and produce -- on Day 1.
“Charlie has talked about going out there and getting in game shape, getting my legs,” Howard said. “Being on the dirt, especially when it gets dry, takes a lot out of your legs, and it can build strength.”
“That’s the whole reason,” said Manuel, explaining his full-steam-ahead approach with Howard. “To get him moving on the bases and around first base.”
Howard has played in all six of the Phillies' games and looked good. He went 2 for 3 with a double, a homer and two RBIs in Thursday’s 10-5 win over the Atlanta Braves. The homer was a long shot into the bullpen in left-center against hard-throwing Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. Howard doubled against lefty Paul Maholm.
Howard is now 8 for 15 on the spring with four extra-base hits and five RBIs. He is 4 for 6 against lefties. Last year, he hit a career-low .219 and just .173 (17 for 98) against lefties.
“I feel good in the box,” Howard said. “As good as you can in the second week of spring training. It’s different when you get a full offseason to train and build up muscles.”
Howard won’t say much more about his hitting. As he said early in camp, he is trying not to think too much at the plate, trying to be more reactive and let his skills take over.
“I’m just going out there swinging,” he said. “I think when I was going well before, that was the same thing. I think in recent years I was over-analyzing it, trying to do too much with it. Now I’m trying to take it back to basics.”
Said Manuel: “Branch Rickey said an empty head equals a full bat. I don’t know if I go along with that, but when Ryan’s hitting he’s usually seeing the ball well, feeling good and staying on the ball and that’s what he’s doing.”
Manuel will eventually give Howard a rest, but it won’t come Friday when the Phillies play the Yankees in Tampa.
“He’s in there,” Manuel said.
Ruf breaks out
Darin Ruf, bidding to make the team as a leftfielder, had been 0 for 10 before smacking a single and a double in the win.
“0 for 10 doesn’t faze me,” Manuel said. “I’ve seen some big-time players be way worse than that. We’re just getting started.”
Ruf’s education in leftfield is continuing. He misplayed a base hit and was charged with a two-base error that led to an unearned run behind Cole Hamels, who allowed four hits in three innings against the team he will likely pitch against in the April 1 season opener.
Manuel said he would experiment with different lineups in spring training. So far, he’s used Michael Young in the No. 2 and No. 5 spot and Chase Utley in the No. 2- and 3-hole. On Thursday, he used Ben Revere at leadoff and Jimmy Rollins in the second spot.
Revere had two hits and scored two runs.
“I just wanted to see it,” Manuel said of his top-of-the order alignment.
Rollins is scheduled to play Friday before departing for the World Baseball Classic.
Speaking of Utley, he had a single, a double and scored two runs. The double hit high off the centerfield wall.
Mike Adams made his spring debut and pitched a scoreless inning.
The Phillies blew 13 eight-inning leads last year. They believe Adams can fix the problem.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” he said. "I like to be considered one of the best setup men in the game. I like that role. I'd rather be one of the best setup men than the No. 15 closer."
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday afternoon. Roy Halladay and Hiroki Kuroda are the starting pitchers. Rodrigo Lopez, Jonathan Papelbon, Phillippe Aumont and Raul Valdes are also scheduled to throw for the Phils.