Howard quietly stirring to life

"He’s getting his swing back, his timing and everything," Charlie Manuel said about Ryan Howard. (Michael Perez/AP)

Roy Halladay was in the middle of talking about the balanced, one-through-nine offensive attack from the Phillies last night, a performance he called the best of the season, when he decided to single one player out.

"Howie - I feel like he's really been swinging the bat better in the last few days," Halladay said.

"Howie," of course is Ryan Howard. The same Ryan Howard who was mired in a nightmare of a slump during the last Phillies homestand. 

Quietly, the big piece at the center of the Phillies batting order has stirred to life lately. Yes, he homered on Monday; but he also collected his third straight two-hit game.

In his last 12 games, Howard is hitting .347 with a 1.058 OPS, four doubles, four home runs and 13 RBIs. 

An encouraging sign of his return was the respect the Reds showed him Monday: Howard was intentionally walked in the fifth inning. The free pass was followed by a John Mayberry Jr. run-scoring single in the midst of an inning that saw the Phils bat around and score four times.

Howard has come a long way in the last two weeks. 

On August 5, in the middle of a stretch that saw him hit .150 (6-for-40) with 20 strikeouts in an 11-game stretch, Howard was on the other end of the intentional walk. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Arizona Diamondbacks walked Chase Utley intentionally to take their chances with Howard.

Howard responded with the game-ending hit. 

Since that walk-off single, Howard is hitting .321 (17-for-53), raising his season average from .198 to .254.

"I think he’s getting to play more," manager Charlie Manuel said of Howard, who missed spring training and the first four months of the season while recovering from left Achilles surgery. 

"And the more he gets to play," Manuel continued, "he’s playing himself into good condition, good shape and he’s getting his swings. He’s getting his swing back, his timing and everything. He missed spring training. And there’s a big difference between playing in Clearwater in the A-league and in the major leagues – the pitching is better. (The pitching is) sharper, the command’s better, everything about it is better. It’s a faster game."