Howard finds left-field stands -- again

Howard fine with hitting homers to left

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard waited that extra second to pounce on Milwaukee lefty Dana Eveland's outside fastball, depositing it over the left-field wall.

In other words, a typical home run for the powerful left-handed hitter.

"The big man's got some sock [the other way]," teammate Aaron Rowand said. "There aren't too many guys who can have opposite-field juice like he has."

In one of the more impressive statistical anomalies, Howard, a large physical specimen with amazing power, hasn't pulled a monster shot at home this season. He's hit 12 homers at Citizens Bank Park in 2006, 10 to left or left-center and two to center.

(One of those two went over the batter's eye and hit the Turkey Hill Ice Cream cart, but that's another story.)

Still, there have been no rockets off the McDonald's sign -- like Barry Bonds did against Jon Lieber -- or batterings off the Bud Light sign by the right-field foul pole.

For Howard, it's all about the Geico sign in left-center.

"You try to hit it where it's pitched," he said. "A pitch away allows you to sit back and see it as long as you can. That's what you want. Some guys think right-center is pulling the ball. If the ball goes over the fence, it goes over the fence."

Of Howard's 17 homers, he's hit three to right-center -- technically pulling them -- but all have come on the road. Three of his 24 career Citizens Bank Park homers have gone to right.

"We all knew he had great power the other way," said hitting coach Milt Thompson, who had seen this during Howard's ascent through the Minors. "He has the strength to hit the ball out of the ballpark, so he can wait to hit that ball outside. He's just hitting it where it's pitched."

When Howard pulls, he typically singles or grounds out. The opposing right fielder has caught just four of his outs this season, further testament to how he's being pitched -- away, away, away.

That doesn't necessarily mean pitchers can return to busting him inside.

"If you throw it in, he can yank it, too," Thompson said. "He knows what his strength is. He's taking that pitch in, so they're going away. The thing right now is to be patient and getting a good ball to hit. When you can do that, it looks easy. When he's going good, he's shooting balls to left-center all day long ... and his ball just takes off."

Howard's 17th homer was his 36th since last year's All-Star break, tying Atlanta's Andrew Jones for second behind Albert Pujols, who has 43 during that span.

Howard leads all Major Leaguers with 12 homers this month. The first baseman has three more games to set a new club record for homers in May. Cy Williams set the mark with 15 in May 1923. Williams and Jim Thome, who hit 15 in June 2004, are tied for the most homers his in any month.

Who cares that they go to left field? The scary part for pitchers is the fact that Howard maintains that he still doesn't feel comfortable at the plate.

"[I'm] still working at putting the ball where I want," he said. "I'm getting there."

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