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Early spring returns look good for Howard

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ryan Howard can be pretty boisterous in the Phillies' clubhouse. But he left Bright House Field on Saturday rather quietly.

He was upset about his two strikeouts in his Grapefruit League debut.

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Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said afterward he would keep throwing Howard out there, which he did on Sunday in a 5-5 tie against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Howard responded with a stand-up double to right-center field in the second inning against Tigers ace Justin Verlander and a double into the right-field corner in the third inning against left-hander Kyle Lobstein.

Howard, who finished 2-for-3, also tested his legs -- in a rundown in the second, on the double in the corner in the third and when he tagged up and advanced to third when Darin Ruf flied out to deep center field. He seems to be moving much better than last season, when he was still recovering from left Achilles surgery.

"It felt good to be able to cut back and forth, plant, go, reverse," Howard said.

The double against Lobstein is noteworthy because Howard hit .173 against left-handers last season. He aims to improve on that.

"I'm just trying to progress each day," Howard said. "Lay off tough pitches. Just lay off certain pitches and work at-bats."

Mike Schmidt is in camp as a special instructor, and said last week he had been talking hitting with Howard -- discussing ways to improve his at-bats against left-handers. Howard said they have been positive discussions.

"The guy is a Hall of Famer," Howard said. "He's easily the most recognized Phillie in Phillies history. You definitely want to pick his brain and talk to him. … It's more just trying to cut the swing down a little bit, just shortening it up with two strikes. I'm continuing to do that, working in the cage and trying to carry it onto the field."

"He'll get better the more we play him," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "I'm going to play him a lot. I want to make sure we get him going, and get him in good shape. I want him to be ready. I think the more he plays, the better he'll get, the stronger he'll get -- and also agile around the bag and everything."

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