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There’s no shame in getting shut down by Johan Santana. That’s exactly what happened Friday to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Saturday, it was Oliver Perez, a solid big league lefty, along with lefties Pedro Feliciano and Billy Wagner. The results? 0-for-5, three strikeouts. Visible frustration. Unfamiliar boos. Another loss to the Mets.
The big guy finally broke through Sunday night with a single against right-hander Mike Pelfrey as the Phillies salvaged the final game of the series, but the totals for the three-game set were ugly. 1-for-13, six strikeouts.
Howard admits that he’s uncomfortable at the plate right now and the Phillies have faced their share of tough lefties. The season is still young and there’s plenty of time to turn things around, as he did last year after an awful start and a trip to the disabled list.
This is a little different though. I was there Saturday night and I don’t recall another time when Ryan Howard was heartily booed. The stakes are obviously higher when the Phillies play the Mets. Just ask the group of idiots in the stands on the first base side who were removed in handcuffs for fighting in the ninth inning.
Howard isn’t just fanning at breaking balls low and away. He’s swinging and missing at fastballs right down the middle. With Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino already sidelined, Charlie Manuel is already struggling to fill those spots in the batting order and can’t afford to give Howard a day off. With those two table setters missing, Howard isn’t batting with runners in scoring position as much, but pitchers are still going right after him… and winning. By the way, the Phillies don’t have a day off until next Monday.
I’m confident that Ryan Howard will snap out of it, but big time hitters find a way to do damage against both righties and lefties. Against a steady dose of lefties on Saturday, lefty hitting Chase Utley, an admittedly different kind of hitter with a more level swing, hit a home run, a single and just missed another home run when he took a Billy Wagner offering to the wall in center field.
Big time hitters also respond to adversity. For the first time in his career, it looks like the pressure may be getting to Ryan Howard. Things have always come easy to him, but not now, not when the Phillies need an extra jolt of offense without Rollins and Victorino. Howard is noticeably upset and so are the fans. How he responds to this slump, both on and off the field, will be very telling.