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News » Phillies Notebook: Hard-hitting Howard adding defense to repertoire for Phillies

Phillies Notebook: Hard-hitting Howard adding defense to repertoire for Phillies

Phillies Notebook: Hard-hitting Howard adding defense to repertoire for Phillies
In some instances, when dealing with a new pupil, Phillies third-base coach Sam Perlozzo might have done his homework. He might have watched film, taken notes, developed a mental game plan. But during his first meeting with Ryan Howard at the University of South Florida in January, the longtime coach and fielding guru wanted to enter with a clean slate."I probably could have requested some films and things like that, but I prefer to see it myself and not be clouded by anything," said Perlozzo, who replaced Steve Smith in the offseason.What Perlozzo says he saw was a player who was determined to improve what many people viewed as a glaring weakness in Howard's overall game. And after close to a month of fielding workouts in Tampa, Fla., and extra work in spring training, that persistence appears to be paying off.In the Phillies' 5-4 victory over the Padres yesterday, Howard went 3-for-4 with a triple to improve his batting average to .341. But it was his defense that played the biggest factor in the team's come-from-behind victory.

On three occasions, Howard made highlight-worthy plays, at least one of which likely prevented a run from later developing. In the third inning, the first baseman made a diving stop of a sharply hit ground ball off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez to rob him of a base hit. Then, with runners on first and second and none out in the sixth, he again dove to his right to glove a ground ball, then flipped to lefthander J.A. Happ at first base to beat Everth Cabrera by a step. Although the runners moved to second and third, Happ struck out the next two batters to escape the jam.Finally, in the seventh inning, Howard chased down a foul ball and made a basket catch to eliminate Edgar Gonzalez."They were all pretty tough," Howard said. "The run down the line was a pretty long run. I basically tried to go out there and throw some leather around and see what happens."Thanks to his extensive work with Perlozzo, the results have become increasingly positive. Howard's 19 errors were the most by a first baseman last season. He has 45 in his three full major league seasons. But this year, he is errorless through 11 games, and has made a fair share of impressive stops.The biggest adjustment Howard has made is in his setup before the pitch. In the past, Perlozzo said, Howard would often be flat-footed in the split second before the ball reaches the plate. Now, Perlozzo feels Howard is in better position to react at the point of contact, pointing to the two diving stops against the Padres as perfect examples.Howard's teammates have seem the difference."I think if anybody notices, it's his teammates more than anybody," catcher Chris Coste said.While Howard is still a long way from contending for any Gold Gloves, his tutor is impressed with the strides he has made."We couldn't have wrote a better script coming out of spring training that we could get off to a good start and build some confidence," Perlozzo said. "In a way, you couldn't have wrote it any better than we have so far."Park's dayWhile righthander Chan Ho Park allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings, he suffered from some tough luck, including a bunt single by Everth Cabrera in the third inning that started off the Padres' three-run frame. Manager Charlie Manuel said afterward it is still too early to consider swapping in J.A. Happ, who has allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings of relief, for Park, who has allowed nine runs in 8 1/3 innings as a starter."Two starts in my mind is not a big chance," Manuel said. "We are looking for the best pitching we can put forth, whether in our bullpen or our rotation. It's still early and we don't want to lose games, but at the same time, when you commit to somebody, I feel like you have to give them a right chance." PhillersCatcher Carlos Ruiz (strained oblique), who took 20 swings in the batting cage and played catch in the outfield prior to the game, said he was optimistic that he would return "soon." Ruiz is eligible to come off the disabled list on Sunday . . . Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who started the game on the bench while mired in a 6-for-45 slump, hit his first career pinch-hit home run after being summoned from the batting cages, where he was working on his swing. Charlie Manuel said he is not overly concerned about Rollins, who could start tonight . . . During the seventh-inning stretch, the Phillies played a clip of late announcer Harry Kalas singing "God Bless America" during a game at Veterans Stadium . . . Matt Stairs made his first start of the season, giving Jayson Werth a day off in rightfield. Stairs batted sixth, giving the Phillies a lineup that featured four lefty power hitters in a row against righthander Josh Geer and the all-righthanded Padres bullpen . . . The Phillies are 4-1 during day games, 1-5 at night this season. *

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 20, 2009

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