Saving Ryan

Ryan Howard homered to left field yesterday in an 8-2 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park.

Good sign?

Typically, it is. But lately those opposite field hits haven't translated into Howard breaking out of his slump. He enters today's series finale against the Giants hitting just .169 with seven homers and 17 RBIs. Worried? I still think it's too early to be really, truly worried. You have to look at Howard's track record and assume at some point he will break out of it.

Jim Salisbury looks at Howard's slump in today's Inquirer.

"He looks like a lost person at the plate," said a major-league scout who has seen a bunch of Howard's at-bats this season. "It looks like he's guessing every pitch, like he's trying not to strike out instead of hitting the ball."

"He's not swinging at strikes. He's chasing bad balls," Charlie Manuel said. "He's not following the ball. He's not staying on it. He's swinging too early and missing it by a lot. He's trying too hard and digging himself a big hole. It's like he gets up there and says, 'I've got to hit a home run.' It looks like he's trying to get 10 hits in one at-bat."

"It's mental," Mike Schmidt said. "But what you go through leads to physical problems. Instead of waiting and trying to smoke that ball right out of the catcher's mitt, you lose your sense of how to do that. I'm sure Ryan's mind is playing some tricks on him. You miss balls you should be driving, and you get frustrated. It's tough to figure out how to get it back."


Nobody knows about bad slumps more than Pat Burrell, who hit .209 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs in 2003. Here's what he had to say about it Thursday:

Q: Did everybody seem to have the answer for you?
A: That's part of the natural process of playing and struggling. People are always going to try to help because that's the nature of the game. But that's a small part of things. The biggest thing is trying to decide what it is that you're going to do about it. We try all kinds of different things. Sometimes it's daily. It's just different things you're trying to do, trying to get a better feel for things. Now when you're not getting results it makes it tough to stick with something that's not working. But you know, you just keep grinding away. I don't know if there is a clear cut answer for what the best way is. You've got to consistently work at it. You can't just assume that things are going to change. It might just be a little thing, but if you consistently get your work done, a lot of times that can make you feel a little more comfortable. If you go into the game with a good mindset sometimes and get a break here and there, the next thing you know you get a couple hits and you start getting into some good counts and things turn around. But I think most important thing is you have to continue to work and look for whatever that piece is that isn't there. And he does that. It is hard. It's especially hard because the other team is paying attention, too. And they can smell blood, so it's a tough situation. He's a hugely talented player, and that's going to help. It's just a matter of keep going and staying with it. Because in the big picture you can make up a lot of ground.

Q: Do you end up second guessing yourself a lot in a slump?
A: That's part of the maturing process as a player. You go through that period of struggle for a while and over time you start to learn, 'Hey, this is what I'm doing. This is what I've got to do to get out of it.' And the most important thing is not try to do too much and let the game come to him. And that's also hard. For a guy they don't throw a lot of strikes to anyway, combined with a guy that swings a lot ... He'll be fine. Is it important for him to get on track? Absolutely."

Q: Could you be a better player today after surviving those struggles in 2003?
A: I don't know. Maybe. I'd take the opposite. I'd take not having to deal with it, but sometimes we don't get to choose that. What's done is done, that's the most important thing. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. You have to find out what you have to do to be prepared. Know who's pitching and what they've done in the past with you. All those things help. The more information you have the more prepared you're going to be. That's never a bad thing. With him it's such a fine line. It could turn around in one day.

Q: Remember any random people giving you advice?
A: I was having lunch with a guy, who was doing an interview. And a guy walked up to the table and said, 'Hey, Pat, sorry to interrupt you guys while you're eating, but stop swinging at the (bleeping) slider.' And he walked out.


In the Phillies Notebook, more on Scott Mathieson and Chase Utley and Burrell struggling at the plate.


In The Inquirer's Sunday baseball column, Salisbury looks at some of the deals that are really paying off ... like Gavin Floyd, for example.