Schmidt's advice is a hit with Howard

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mike Schmidt , who is in Clearwater, Fla., giving hitting tips to the Phillies, looks as if can still swing a mean bat.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mike Schmidt , who is in Clearwater, Fla., giving hitting tips to the Phillies, looks as if can still swing a mean bat.
Posted: February 22, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The difference between the game's very good players and its all-time greats is career durability and consistency.

Roger Maris hit a record 61 home runs in 1961 and 133 home runs in the 3-year period between 1960-62, but finished with 275 in his 12-year career. Mickey Mantle had knee problems but still managed to play 18 big-league seasons; he hit .300 or better in 10 of those seasons and had hit 30 or more home runs in 9 different years.

Turning the power-hitting pendulum to Philadelphia, the two most famous home run hitters in Phillies history are somewhat similar to Maris and Mantle.

Although Ryan Howard hit 58 home runs in 2006 and 198 home runs in the 4-year span of 2006-09, his numbers have declined in the last 3 years, regardless of last year's injury. Mike Schmidt, meanwhile, is in the Hall of Fame with Mantle, while Maris is on the outside looking in, because he hit 30 or more home runs 13 out of 14 years from 1974 to 1987.

Consistent, reliable, All-Star caliber production. It's what Schmidt did and it's what the 33-year-old Howard would still like to do to revive his career.

Schmidt arrived in Phillies camp on Wednesday. When he spoke with the media on Thursday, Schmidt said that he had already spoken to Howard about hitting.

"I've got to tell you right out of the chute, Ryan Howard is very interested in my input in his hitting," said Schmidt, who is in camp for a monthlong stay as a special instructor. "That makes me really feel good. We've chatted over the years about hitting. I've always been a Ryan Howard fan, but he's picking my brain a little bit more."

Although an Achilles' injury sapped him of generating any power from his left leg, Howard managed to hit 14 home runs in 71 games in 2012. But he also hit a career low .219 with 99 strikeouts in 292 plate appearances.

He was particularly unproductive in "Late and Close" situations, which is defined by as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with his team tied, ahead by one run or with the tying run at least on deck. Howard hit .190 with one extra-base hit - a home run - and 24 strikeouts in 50 such scenarios.

Schmidt defended Howard, saying he's not in a lineup like Albert Pujols is in Los Angeles, with the likes of fellow Angels' power-hitters Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo.

"He probably gets 50-70 tough at-bats every year, [more] than every other player in the division," Schmidt said. "In other words, he's stuck in a game situation against the best pitcher, one of the best lefthanders in the league, probably 60-70 times more than other hitter in the league is."

Schmidt said the goal in those at-bats should be making contact.

"He's still going to strikeout. I'm in the top 10 all time in strikeouts so I'm pretty comfortable with striking out," Schmidt said. "But we've been talking about ways where we might get him to be a little less strikeout prone in those kind of [Jonny] Venters' at-bats, against Atlanta late in the game, when you get that nasty lefthander to get him out. We need contact in this at-bat.

"I don't care if it's a grounder to second or a chopper up the middle. Even if it's on the first pitch or second pitch. Less foul balls and two-strike vulnerability in those at-bats. He has bought into the discussion 100 percent . . . At this point in time he's very receptive to it."

In a near half-hour long chat with the media, Schmidt touched on several other issues. Some highlights:

* On no living baseball players being inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame this year: "I sort of ride the fence on that whole steroid-era issue. I don't like to see if, in fact, [Mike] Piazza and [Craig] Biggio get lumped in with guys who have a stronger relationship with the PED issue. I don't like to see that. I don't like to see an entire generation lumped in.

"I don't have a definite opinion like some of my fellow Hall of Famers. Some of the guys were very, very adamant about a person being associated with steroids: 'They'll never be in the Hall of Fame. If they are, I'll never come back.' I've heard that from some of my fellow members and I think that's absolutely ridiculous."

* On new third baseman Michael Young: "[He] could retire tomorrow and he would be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. He's probably two Michael Young years away from being a first ballot Hall of Famer. I don't know what his career hitting numbers are, but he's a little like Derek Jeter, is he not? If he played in New York, imagine what people would be saying about Michael Young's career? Somebody would have mentioned the Hall of Fame a long time ago."

* On Domonic Brown, and having similar struggles early in his own big league career: "I guarantee I would've been in the same boat as him if I were a leftfielder or rightfielder. They expect more out of you, you have to assert yourself more as a hitter in order to win a job in the outfield . . . I was afforded the time to make adjustments and sort of become an everyday, consistent major-league hitter. He doesn't have that luxury. He has Darin Ruf hounding him . . . He's got like six guys who want his position . . . [But] it's about time that Domonic does the things that everyone thinks he can do. And not does them over a day, but does them over a month, then 2 months. And that's when he gets his name inserted in the lineup every day.

* On Darin Ruf: "I'm a big fan. I chatted with him really quickly, told him, 'Congratulations on your great start with the Phillies in the major leagues.' . . . I just like him. He's a great young kid. He has no fear as a hitter against tough righthanders. You see that sometimes. He can give you a hell of an at-bat against a nasty righthanded pitcher. He's very mature for 26. I wouldn't discount him being your Opening Day starter [in leftfield]. Let's wait and see. He has everything you need to win that job."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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