Howard, desperately trying to break out of a miserable slump, spent the next 25 minutes in an extended one-on-one hitting session with Gross, stopping every five pitches or so to break down his swing.
Sometimes, Gross would demonstrate what he wanted Howard to work on by swinging an imaginary bat and pointing to different aspects in his batless swing. Another time, Gross walked from behind the cage to the batter's box next to Howard with two baseballs and placed them where he wanted Howard's feet to be in his batting stance.
Four hours later, Howard knocked his first hit in 11 at-bats, driving a first-pitch fastball into left-center on his way to a 2-for-4 night in the Phillies' 3-0 win. Howard smacked an eighth-inning fastball into right for his second hit of the night, but did strike out in ugly fashion in the second and sixth innings.
Howard had just one hit in his last 21 at-bats entering Saturday. His two hits will bring his batting average back above .200, but his two strikeouts means he has fanned in 42 percent of his at-bats.
"I think Howard's still going through some spring training," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I could give everybody rest. But you know what my manager used to tell me? 'How the hell are you going to hit if you're not in the game?' "
Howard obviously didn't have the luxury of spring training and didn't don a Phillies uniform until July 6.
Before Saturday, he had 68 at-bats this season. Players usually take between 30 and 70 at-bats in spring training to get their swing down.
"He's still trying to find his swing," Manuel said. "First of all, he wants to be out there, and second of all, I want him to be out there because I think that's what's best for him, too. That's how he's going to get his swing down."
Third baseman Placido Polanco, who has been on the disabled list retroactive to July 23 with lower-back inflammation, said he was making progress.
"I did some stretching today and throwing and I feel I am on my way," he said.
Polanco said no timetable has been set for a rehabilitation assignment.
Marc Narducci contributed
to this article.
Contact Chad Graff
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