Charlie Manuel grabbed a first baseman's mitt hours before first pitch Tuesday and manned the position. Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen wanted extra work on the infield. The 69-year-old Manuel helped.
"We needed somebody," he said.
What Manuel needs is the man usually at first base, Ryan Howard, to produce more. Howard, typically a slow starter, was off to his worst 18-game stretch entering Tuesday. It is early and the sample size is small, but Howard was trending downward.
Just 6.8 percent of his hits were for extra-bases. His career average before 2013 was 11 percent. It has declined in each of the last two seasons.
Which player do you wish was still around?
|| 81 (10.5%)
|| 275 (35.5%)
|| 56 (7.2%)
|| 362 (46.8%)
Total votes = 774
Howard was hitting a respectable .275 but with a .297 on-base percentage and .377 slugging percentage. That .674 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage was his lowest in any season's first 18 games. So was the one home run he's hit.
The lesson after a torrid spring, Manuel said, is that power strokes come and go.
"He'll get it," Manuel said. "It's coming. It's still there. He's going to get it."
The $125 million first baseman ranked 120th among qualified hitters in slugging percentage.
"He's our big power threat, yes," Manuel said. "Until someone comes around and wants to hit 30 or 40. Ryan is the guy we depend on for power."
Manuel cited some recent hard-hit balls by Howard to suggest promise. He added, though, "it looked like he was trying to do too much in the other at-bats."
April is traditionally Howard's worst month; his career OPS is lowest then. Howard has never had a full month with fewer than three home runs. With one in 18 games before Tuesday, there was work to accomplish before May arrives.
For reference, here is Howard's production over the first 18 games in previous seasons:
2006: 72 PA, .355/.444/.613 (1.057), 5 HR
2007: 88 PA, .215/.409/.415 (.824), 3 HR
2008: 81 PA, .182/.321/.394 (.715), 4 HR
2009: 82 PA, .292/.378/.556 (.934), 4 HR
2010: 83 PA, .275/.301/.475 (.776), 3 HR
2011: 79 PA, .265/.329/.471 (.800), 3 HR
2012: 70 PA, .217/.329/.450 (.779), 4 HR
2013: 74 PA, .275/.297/.377 (.674), 1 HR
Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.