Notes: Howard gets back on track
Coste, Lieber to stay in Florida; Bourn continues solid play
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Evidently, it was much ado about nothing.
Ryan Howard, who entered Thursday's game in a 1-for-23 slump over his last seven games, silenced his critics with a 2-for-3 day against the Pirates, which included a broken-bat single and a towering solo homer.
"It was all about getting my timing back," said Howard. "It's always nice to have a good day like that, especially the last day before we go back up to Philadelphia."
For much of Spring Training, Howard has been mired in controversy surrounding his silence with reporters.
The 2006 National League Most Valuable Player even went so far as to claim a "Ryan Howard Day" earlier this week in which he requested questions that were different from the norm.
The frustration mounted from his lack of production while he was scuffling to a .203 batting average with only two homers in 59 at-bats entering Thursday's game.
But on Thursday, he immediately made it known that he had found his swing again.
In his first at-bat, after Michael Bourn reached first base on a line-drive single and scored on Chase Utley's double to right, Howard made solid contact on a fastball offering from Pirates starter Shawn Chacon.
Howard's bat exploded, with the barrel landing in the middle of the dirt between first and second, while the ball carried to the back of the infield towards center. He reached first safely and Utley came around to score on the errant throw by Jose Castillo.
Howard loudly pronounced his return to the Howard of old in the third inning when he sent a second-pitch fastball from Chacon an estimated 40 feet beyond the 370-foot sign in left-center. What was even more impressive was that there was a steady wind blowing in from the outfield.
"That one got some attention, huh?" said manager Charlie Manuel. "One swing can change the whole outlook around sometimes. Sometimes you're just not hitting the ball and you start pressing. I think hitting the ball hard today was good for him. I think that's what gets guys going."
Manuel said he has talked to the slugger during the past two weeks about staying in the middle of the field. In addition, the Phillies skipper suggested that Howard continue hitting the ball hard in batting practice.
Before Thursday's game, Howard did just that, blasting several shots in the same area where his homer landed during the game.
"I've just been trying to see the ball better and getting them to travel," said Howard. "This spring has been a little tougher getting my timing. Once you start doing that, then after, it just goes."
Howard's blast was encouraging to see for his teammates, and Utley feels it came at just the right time.
"He hit that one pretty far, didn't he?" Utley said. "It's always nice to see, and it's good for us to have him swing the bat like that and see results. That was a bomb and it was fun to watch."
Pat Burrell, who was batting in the No. 5 spot, even was motivated a bit, hitting his fourth homer of the spring -- a shot that curled around the foul pole in left field.
"We're excited about getting the season started, and it's been nice to see us get things going this last week of the spring," said Utley.
Coste, Lieber to stay in Sunshine State: Manuel said that Chris Coste and Jon Lieber would stay in Florida and continue working out in the Phillies' Minor League camp in Clearwater, Fla., while Freddy Garcia would travel with the team to Philadelphia. In addition, the Phillies announced that injured backup catcher Ryan Budde would continue working out with the Minor Leaguers as well.
Manuel stated earlier in the week that Lieber probably wouldn't be ready until the middle of next week, which means that he most likely would start the season on the disabled list.
Coste, on the other hand, "might be up in Philadelphia once the season starts," according to Manuel.
Garcia, who played catch on Wednesday, remains on schedule to pitch in an extended Spring Training game on or around April 3, then start against the Marlins on April 7 or 8.
Bourn to run: Michael Bourn, who entered Thursday's game with a .286 batting average, certainly made a case for himself on Thursday, even after his roster spot was secured when Karim Garcia was released on Wednesday.
After opening the game with a hard line drive that richocheted off Pirates starter Chacon, the 24-year-old outfielder stole second with ease and then came around to score on Utley's double.
In the second inning, the Houston native demonstrated his speed when he grounded a hard-hit ball to short that he almost beat out, missing a safe call by a half-step. Then, in the bottom half of the inning, after Brad Eldred reached first on a walk, Bourn exhibited his skills in the field, tracking down a line drive in the gap and then doubling up Eldred at first.
Two innings later, with one out and men on first and second, Bourn beat out a double-play ball that would have ended the inning. One pitch later, he easily swiped second. Jayson Werth grounded out in the next at-bat, but Bourn, who now has eight stolen bases this spring, proved how invaluable his speed can be in late-inning situations.
Gearing up: Geoff Geary posted his second impressive outing in as many appearances this week. The 30-year-old right-hander, who had been out with a strained left hamstring until tossing a scoreless eighth inning on Tuesday, pitched two innings against the Pirates without allowing a run and giving up just one hit.
"I like the way Geary has looked the last two times out," said Manuel. "I'm very pleased about the way he's pitched."
Roll the Dice: Manuel is excited about facing Daisuke Matsuzaka when the Phillies play the Red Sox in a two-game stint Friday and Saturday.
"Dice-K!" said Manuel, who watched five DVD recordings of the Japanese phenom before the Red Sox secured the rights to sign the right-hander. "He's got good stuff. I'm glad he doesn't pitch for the Mets or the Braves."
Matsuzaka is scheduled to pitch on Saturday when the Phillies face the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Coming up: The Phillies travel back to Philadelphia to play their last two games of the spring. On Friday, the Phils will battle the Red Sox in a Friday night affair that begins at 7:05 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park. Cole Hamels, who is coming off an impressive 6 2/3-inning outing in which he allowed five hits and two runs, makes his fifth and final start of the spring. Boston will counter with Julian Tavarez.
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.