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Notes: Hawaiian basepath punch

Notes: Hawaiian basepath punch

CINCINNATI -- In three of the five Phillies wins this year, Shane Victorino has nabbed a stolen base to aid the team's offensive effort.

Philadelphia led the National League in runs scored last year, and having the added threat of another base stealer for the opposition to worry about is something that could really boost the Phils' run-scoring ability.

The 26-year old Hawaii native has been working hard on his craft, but doesn't want to overplay the importance it has on the club.

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"Even if I don't steal bases, I think our offense has guys behind me that are going to drive me in, but it does put us in a better situation when I do get into scoring position," Victorino said.

Last year, shortstop Jimmy Rollins led the Phils with 36 swipes, and having the two players back-to-back in the lineup is reason for other teams to be concerned. In the Minors, Victorino posted 47 thefts in his 2001 campaign, and 45 in 2002, so there is potential for him to flash some big numbers.

Hoping to help him reach that potential is first-base coach Davey Lopes, who knows a thing or two about the art. Lopes finished his career with 557 steals, and in 1975, he put together a season in which he stole 77 bases.

It's amazing the things that Lopes sees, or that he picks up, Victorino said.

"When we were in Washington the other day, I talked to Felipe Lopez about it, and about how Davey helped him a lot last year with getting jumps or seeing things that we don't see. Though you may be a good base-stealer, he sees something else that can help you and give you that edge."

Lopes sees a lot of potential in Victorino.

"I keep pushing him to run," Lopes said. "He has good instincts and good speed, and now he's learning about reading pitchers."

Does Lopes have a feel for how many steals Victorino could reach this season?

"I think he has a number down that he's shooting for, but I don't know what the number is, and I'm sure he's not going to reveal it in case he doesn't get there," Lopes said.

Victorino will only admit to setting the smallest of goals -- surpassing last year's total of four.

"I told myself before I put a number out there -- stealing like 20 bags -- I need to steal five," he said. "I need to do [better than] what I did last year."

Ryan's return: National League MVP Ryan Howard was back playing first base and hitting cleanup Sunday for the Phils after missing three games with a strained ligament in his left leg.

New ace or five of a kind? After Cole Hamels' dominant performance Saturday night, when he struck out 15 Reds batters, it seemed that he certainly established himself as the new staff ace now that Opening Day starter Brett Myers has moved to the bullpen.

Hamels doesn't feel that is his role on this staff, though.

"With the veteran leadership that we have, I don't really have to do that, because I'm still learning, and the veteran starters are still helping me out," Hamels said. "So, they're the ace that day -- every five days. When it's my turn, I'll be our ace, but the next day is someone else's turn."

Now that he's reached a new career high with the 15 strikeouts, where does he go next?

"It would be nice to be up in the presence of Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood and be in the 20s," the lefty said of the single-game strikeout milestone.

"That's tough in this game, in this day and age, because of how good hitters are, and how quick they can make the adjustments.

"It's always going to be there now with having 15, and I'm going to want to break that."

Rowand in groove: Center fielder Aaron Rowand led the team with a .345 batting average entering Sunday, and his power stroke really seems to be taking hold. He hit his second home run Saturday night and has been driving a number of balls deep to the outfield.

The fractured ankle that kept him out of action down the stretch last year appears to be in good shape, and he believes the spring weather finally arriving has helped the way his ankle feels as well.

Even though his numbers weren't great in Spring Training, he felt he had reason to believe the season would start well.

"I felt like I had a pretty good spring -- not results-wise, but I hit the ball hard pretty hard, and pretty consistently," Rowand said. "I just didn't get a whole lot of hits out of it."

Coming up: The Phillies return home to Citizens Bank Park for an extended homestand beginning with Monday's 7:05 p.m. ET quick one-game set with the Astros, which is a makeup game for their April 15 rainout. Right-hander Adam Eaton (1-1, 6.62 ERA) will make the start for Philadelphia against Houston right-hander Chris Sampson (2-0, 1.20).

Brian Connors Manke is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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