Ryan Howard, spring's iron man, is hitting

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There are no participation awards for Grapefruit League play, especially not for an aging Phillies team that must maintain its health during a relentless 162-game schedule. But there was Ryan Howard, in the lineup Thursday for the sixth time in six days, and still hitting the ball.

And when Howard returned to the Phillies clubhouse after a 2 for 3 day that included an opposite-field blast off firethrowing Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel, Howard saw his name on the travel list for Friday's game.

"I'm out here doing what I have to do," Howard said. "They put me in the lineup, and I go out there. That's it."

Howard is one of three Phillies who have appeared in every Grapefruit League game. The others are Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr.

Charlie Manuel has bristled each day when asked whether Howard will play the next. The manager wants Howard to make up for lost time. The first baseman agrees; he said he needs his "game legs" back.

"It's a lot different when you get a full offseason to train and build up the muscles," Howard said. "Obviously it's a lot stronger than where it was last year. The difference is it's a lot better."


Is Ryan Howard close to regaining his old power?

His hitting, while done in early spring action, is better too. He is 4 for 6 against lefthanded pitching with two doubles. One came in the first inning Thursday against Paul Maholm.

In 2012, Howard had all of two doubles in 106 regular-season plate appearances vs. lefties.

"I don't want to analyze it," Howard said. "I'm done with thinking about it.

"I think when I was going well before, that was the same thing. In recent years, I was overanalyzing it, trying to do too much with it. Now I'm trying to take it back to the basics."

When asked about Howard's strategy, Manuel referenced a Branch Rickey experession, "A full mind is an empty bat."

"I don't know if I go along with that," Manuel said.

He did, however, love Howard's approach against Kimbrel.

"Totally relaxed and stayed on the ball," Manuel said. "He went right with it."

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