But Manuel is convinced he has the answer to preventing Howard from declining as many players with his skill set are apt to do as they advance in age. He wants Howard to move closer to the plate so he can hit with power to all parts of the field.
"I still think some of his best hitting is in front of him," Manuel said.
Howard saw the final pitch of the 2010 Phillies season and watched Brian Wilson's curve go by for a called strike three in losing Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants. He claimed Friday he has yet to watch a replay of it since the season ended.
"It took me a little while to let it go," Howard said. "I had a sick feeling in my stomach."
After Aug. 1, Howard played with a left ankle sprain and even now he says it isn't 100 percent. "I'm pretty much like 98 percent," he said.
He began training in Florida shortly after Jan. 1 and that was his solution to forgetting 2010, when he hit .276 with 31 home runs and 108 RBI, but also had 157 strikeouts in 143 games. Howard also began standing closer to the plate, fulfilling Manuel's long-held wish.
On Monday, to demonstrate why, Manuel put his hands on the table and created an imaginary plane.
"This is the baseball field right here," Manuel said. "Ryan Howard, his baseball field is this way." Manuel pointed to his imaginary left field.
"He hit these long home runs to left field and people would rave, wouldn't they?"
Rich Dubee played assistant professor. "Yep," the pitching coach said.
"And," Manuel said, "they'd go, 'Wow! Look at that power, boy! Just think how far he could hit the ball to right field.' " Now, here comes the lesson.
"Not really," Manuel said.
See, Manuel explained, Howard was hitting these balls to left so well because of the way he was standing at the plate. He turned his power field into left when it should have been right field.
"But now," Manuel said, "by getting a little closer to the plate and making a little adjustment, this is the whole field." Manuel expanded his plane to include everything.
"I want him to hit out of the whole field. Does that make sense?"
Too much sense, actually. Why hasn't Howard stood closer to the plate before?
"We're negotiating getting closer to the plate," Howard said. "Right now it's all about just getting the feel right. I've been hitting closer to the plate the entire off-season."
Manuel claimed his pupil was never comfortable with the suggestion. He still may not be, but at least there will be some experimentation.
Last season, Howard hit 13 home runs to left field, six to center and 12 to right. He's lefthanded, so the majority should be hit to right.
"A lot of those balls he's hitting to left field are down the middle and inside," Manuel said. "The ball is getting deep on him and he's swinging late. He just happens to be strong enough to hit the ball out that way. His good hitting is from just to the right of center field to right field."
While Howard is listening to his manager's suggestion, he is downplaying the decreased numbers from 2010.
"It's funny to me because everybody talks about my power numbers from last year," Howard said. " 'Oh, Ryan, your power numbers were down.' I think everybody forgot that I was out for a month. That I was hurt and pretty much down for a month, because I was right there with everybody on the leader board in home runs and RBIs.
"As far as that stuff, I don't really think that was an issue. I got hurt."
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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