CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There is being in shape and then there is being in baseball shape.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is getting Ryan Howard in baseball shape. Howard started his sixth consecutive Grapefruit League game Thursday in a 10-5 victory over the Braves at Bright House Field. He went 2-for-3 with his first spring homer, a double and two RBIs. Overall, he is hitting .533 (8-for-15) with three doubles, the home run, five RBIs, two walks, two runs scored and three strikeouts.
Six starts in six games is unusual for an everyday player at the beginning of camp, but Howard missed a lot of time last year following left Achilles surgery, so Manuel wants to make sure his first baseman is ready to play come Opening Day.
Howard said he is not trying for a Grapefruit League participation award.
"I'm out here doing what I have to do," Howard said. "[Manuel] talked about going out there and -- I don't want it to sound bad -- but being out there, being able to play in game-shape, getting my game legs. Right now, I'll keep running out there. Hopefully one day [I'll get a day off]. We have a couple of days built-in."
But Howard is swinging a good bat, which is encouraging.
"I'm just going out there, swinging," Howard said. "I think when I was going well before, that was the same thing. I think in recent years I was overanalyzing it, trying to do too much with it. Now, I'm trying to take it back to the basics."
His health also is improved, which has helped.
"It's a lot different when you get a full offseason to train and build up the muscles," Howard said. "Obviously, it's a lot stronger than where it was last year. The difference is it's a lot better."