Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Not many ball players have ever received a rousing ovation
for getting thrown out at third base, not the way Ryan Howard did at Citizens Bank
Park on Friday night.

The Big Piece had just hit his second home run in as many
days during the previous at bat, and fourth over the last nine games, so he was
understandably feeling a little frisky. Next time up Howard swept a double into
the right-field corner, a place where Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna was
experiencing some difficulty collecting the ball.

With the Phillies already ahead comfortably in the third
inning – 3-0 being considered comfortable when the opponent is the Miami
Marlins – Howard “made an executive decision.” He rounded second and charged
toward third.

[ Watch Ryan Howard
try for three
]

It turns out this Ozuna kid has a hose attached to his right arm, as
the 22 year old delivered a rope to cut-off man Donovan Solano, who in turn
fired the perfect relay throw to Placido Polanco as Howard belly-flopped
head-first at the third baseman’s feet. Polly applied the tag with several
moments to spare.

Then it happened. The fans… cheered. Howard… laughed, along
with his teammates in the dugout. Everything was okay.

It’s easy to forgive and forget when the mistake comes at
the hands of the Marlins, who predictably did not go on to put up much of a
fight in the Phils’ 4-1 victory. Miami’s record fell to 8-22 for the season,
tied with the Houston Astros in the American League for worst in Major League
Baseball.

There is something to be said for enjoying oneself at the
ball park though – no matter who you are – and Howard’s jaunt seemed to lighten
the air on the diamond for possibly the first time since spring training concluded. It
was about more than stretching a double into a triple.

It was about the Phillies feeling like their old selves again.

How well cleanup is swinging the bat of late is no doubt easing
some of the pressure inside the clubhouse as well. Howard has been hitting for
average since the first week of the season; now he’s starting to hit for power
and driving in runs. In the 10 games since April 22, Howard has notched 12 RBI
and crossed the plate eight times himself, while his slugging percentage has
risen more than .150 points.

And don’t look now, but Howard may just be beginning to
creep into the league leaders in certain categories amidst this current assault.
He moved into a tie for seventh in the National League with 14 extra base hits, and his five bombs, 18
RBI and a .519 slugging all crack the top 25.

Yes, Howard has also struggled in some aspects. He's tied for 54th out of 91 qualifiers in the NL with a .319 on-base percentage, a byproduct of his drawing a mere six walks to date. The contact numbers clearly are not bad at all however.

His was not the only bat to put on a show for the 36,292 in
attendance, either. Chase Utley (6) and Domonic Brown (5) added solo blasts of their own.

The fireworks display coupled with good vibes at Citizens
are a positive sign. The Phillies feasted at home during the run of success from
2007 to ‘11, posting a 246-162 record – an impressive .603 winning percentage. Compare that to last season when they finished just one game above .500 in South Philly.

So far the Phils are only 7-8 this year when they have home-field
advantage, a number that likely must be in their favor if they are to reach the
playoffs. Call it a comfort level, call it the dimensions of the stadium. For whatever
the reason, this group can get on a serious roll in their own building.

Sooner or later they have to beat a few
teams besides the Marlins and Mets no matter where the contests are held, yet all
things considered the Phillies are not in bad shape. Both the Braves and Nationals
lost on Friday, which puts the good guys just 3.5 back of first place.

The core may be getting old, or even feel like they have
something left to prove, but Howard and his mates should try to loosen up more
often. Who knows, maybe his hopeless attempt at third will rub off on a few of the guys, and the Fightins might continue to play like they actually like this
baseball thing again.

Judging from the final results here, it couldn't possibly be a bad thing.

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>> Box Score [CBS]

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Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career – at least his Villanova career – with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best on Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points – 9 ½ below his average.

“He’s getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. “He’s down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he’s down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he’s battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That’s more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

“We know he’s talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he’s battling and the way he’s not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that’s the best part.”

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5 ½ rebounds per game. The others were D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that’s where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

“Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows,” coach Jay Wright said. “We know. When he’s in the game, we are executing at a high level. We’re just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you’ve got to be able to (play defense) first and he’s been doing that all year.

“(He’s) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you’ll probably see next year, but you’ve got to get the basics down first, which he’s done an incredible job of this year. It’s like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they’re not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is, because they don’t get to see it all the time.”

It’s not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

“It was a process,” Paschall said. “The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that’s defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

“The guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a brotherhood here and we’re all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It’s just a matter of focusing on my job.”

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he’s 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he’s come and in done what’s expected,” Jalen Brunson said.

“He’s done a great job for us and we’re extremely confident in him. It’s hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he’s done a good job.”

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

“Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game,” he said. “They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As thin as Villanova is – Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt – Paschall has been a life-saver.

It’s hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

“We see him getting better every day with his decision making,” Hart said of Paschall. “Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

“One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he’s doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.”

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

“I got to briefly shake his hand,” Pivetta said Sunday morning. “He knew I was like a stalker. He said, ‘Oh, right, you’re the guy from British Columbia.’ “

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.