CLEARWATER, Fla. — The first two pitchers Ryan Howard faced in a spring game were lefthanded, and that suited Ryne Sandberg just fine. The Phillies manager watched Howard lace a single off Jesse Biddle and smash a homer to deep center off Cesar Jimenez.
This was just an intrasquad scrimmage. But Sandberg expects Howard to spend the spring improving his craft against lefthanders.
"He's talked to me about that himself," Sandberg said. "He's approached me about seeing lefthanded pitching. If he makes the lefthanders throw strikes, in my opinion he can hit balls in the strike zone."
Howard hit the home run on an 0-2 pitch. He said he feels fine, but declined to expound. "It's like that whole superstition thing," he said.
Howard, of course, thrived vs. lefthanders last spring only to continue his downward trend when the games mattered. He hit .400 with three doubles and three homers in 30 at-bats against lefties during Grapefruit League play. He mustered three doubles and three homers with a .173 batting average in 87 regular-season plate appearances against lefties.
Howard's .604 OPS vs. lefthanders since 2011 ranks 202d out of 213 qualified hitters. Sandberg has not eliminated the possibility of a platoon, but that is not an imminent option.
Grapefruit League games begin Wednesday, and Howard endorsed the atmosphere in Sandberg's first camp.
"The workload has been a lot more than it's been in years past," Howard said, "but we're going out, getting work in and guys are definitely sweating a lot more."
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