Notes: Howard not discouraged

Phillies notes: Howard not discouraged

CHICAGO -- Most of Ryan Howard's teammates had cleared the dugout following Sunday's loss to the Cubs, preparing for the final leg of a three-city journey.

By now, Howard sat alone on the bench, most likely replaying in his head his final failed opportunity to help his team win. It's been a discouraging beginning for the prized rookie, who's off to a 1-for-14 start.

"I'm swinging the bat and hitting the ball," he said. "It's just finding everybody who's playing a position right now. It's frustrating, but all I can do is keep swinging, and hopefully [the fielders] will move the other way one time."

Howard came to bat in the ninth inning of Sunday's 2-1 loss in need of a fly ball to score Bobby Abreu, but Howard tapped to second. In his defense, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano recorded 19 groundball outs on Sunday.

Before heading into the clubhouse, manager Charlie Manuel gave Howard an encouraging pat on the back.

"I told him to keep his head up," Manuel said. "He'll get 'em. He wants to show he can hit. I have faith in him."

Howard isn't thinking about the .071 next to his name.

"I'm not even thinking about what my average is," he said. "I don't care. I know when they start falling in, the only place it's going to go is up."

Using your head, part two: The scariest moment of Sunday's loss came in the second inning, when Cubs catcher Michael Barrett lined a ball off the back of Brett Myers' head.

Catcher Todd Pratt and trainer Jeff Cooper rushed to the mound, but were told by Myers that he was fine.

"He's a tough son of a [gun]," said Todd Pratt. "He's a horse. He didn't go down."

Myers was shown in the dugout icing his melon, and he stayed in to toss a complete game.

"It stung, but you have some much adrenaline. I probably won't really feel it until tonight. It got me flush. I put ice on it because I didn't want to change hats."

An amateur boxer until he was 13, Myers said he's been hit in the head a lot and is therefore used to it. The line drive motivated him.

"Maybe that's why I'm as dumb as I am," he said. "I was shaking. I was ready to chew bark off a tree after that. I was madder than I've ever been. It was right off my dome."

Lieberthal an institution: Representing Philadelphia in his own unique way has been an unlikely role for a Southern Californian like Mike Lieberthal.

But no athlete from any of the four major sports teams has been in this city longer than Lieberthal -- not Donovan McNabb, Ron Hextall or Julius Erving.

In addition, sometime this week, Lieberthal will make his 110th plate appearance, thus vesting his $7.5 million option and bringing him back to Philadelphia for the 2006 season.

"I guess the way people talk about one player, yeah, I'm proud to be on the Phillies," said Lieberthal, who was 14 plate appearances shy of 110 entering Sunday's game. "I know everybody. It's a good place to be. It's close to a family. I've been taken care of by the Phillies really well."

Drafted third overall as an 18-year-old high school catcher, Lieberthal debuted in 1994. In April, he made his ninth straight Opening Day start.

He's not thinking about the extra income he'll earn next season.

"I already have cha-ching," he said. "This will just be more cha-ching."

More importantly is time served. Barring a trade, Lieberthal will turn 35 when his contract expires. While many players speak of finishing their career with their hometown team -- and for Lieberthal, that would be the Dodgers -- he likes the thought of being a one-team guy.

He's not sure which way the Phillies might lean on that topic. He's stayed healthy since returning from his 2001 knee injury, though like last year, he's off to another slow start at the plate. He's hitting .227 through 26 games, with five RBIs, but he knows what's wrong, and is trying to correct it.

"Just like any other hitter in the Major Leagues, when you're early, you're pulling off or [getting jammed]," he said. "The question is just how to get out of it. You have to get your timing back."

Lieberthal hopes the timing is right to work out one more contract with Philadelphia. If not, he'll hope to catch on somewhere.

"My left knee feels great," he said. "The right knee is fine as long as I take my inflammatory medication and ice it after games.

"I can't see retiring at 35. I don't know what I would do with myself. If I feel like I do now, I'll keep playing -- as long as I'm producing."

Another testimonial: The line of people who swear by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is a long one, and includes Cubs right fielder Jeromy Burnitz.

The veteran remembers a time in Cleveland (1995-96) when he was young and unsure of himself. Then he met Manuel.

"He's one of the best people you can come across in the game," Burnitz said. "I liked his message. Everything he used to tell me made perfect sense. He's a guy I've always believed in."

Manuel seems to have a way with power-hitting lefties, including Jim Thome, Brian Giles and Burnitz, and often preached the gospel of Ted Williams. Burnitz remembers hearing the phrase "Know thyself" countless times.

"He also used to say, 'You hit when you can. I hit when I want to,'" Burnitz said. "I think he stole that one, but that's where I heard it first."

Sounds like Manuel stole that from Williams, too. Even after nearly 10 years and five teams later, Burnitz said hello to Manuel, and suspected that his former hitting coach hasn't changed as a manager.

"He's a quality guy. "I never got to play for him as a manager, but he's one of the guys, and I'm sure he sticks to who he really is," said Burnitz. "A lot of times, coaches who become managers change because they have to answer to a higher power. I think he's a simple man who believes in simple things. I have a similar philosophy. That's one of the things that I consider special about him.

"Really, the smart people are the ones who simplify things and can do it in a productive way. That's Charlie."

Thanks, mom: Manuel may be a grown man at 60, but that doesn't mean he's not still under the influence of his mother.

"I can't imagine a better person in the world than my mother," Manuel said. "I hope everybody's mom is like mine. She's been very special to me, and I've been very lucky to have her. She always encourages me when I have problems. She's always there to listen. Sometimes, she'll give too much advice, but she's loved every one of her children."

Most days, Manuel can't believe how his mother kept her energy and smile with nearly a dozen children. She's still kicking at 84, and lives in Buena Vista, Va.

"Sometimes I look at her and I think, 'How in the world did she have 11 kids?' But she's been great," said Manuel. "We talk regularly. She's the biggest Phillies fan in the world."

Coming up: Randy Wolf starts the opener of a three-game series in Milwaukee on Monday in a continued attempt to right the ship for his 2005 season. He made great progress on May 4 against the Mets, allowing three runs on five hits in seven innings. Wolf will face the Brewers' Victor Santos.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.