How much longer will the former bopper be trotted out to first base with his .150 batting average and his “sleek” but lifeless body?

By Peter Gleason

Remember all the talk in February and March from radio talk show hosts and especially CSN know-nothing Michael Barkann about how Phillies first baseman looked so “sleek,” thanks to having dropped 15 pounds over the winter?

As if that somehow meant that we would see the pre-2011 Howard — when he was feared by every pitcher in baseball as a power hitter.

After six games of the regular season, Howard looks like an over-the-hill and overpaid shell of himself — though he is still sleek.

And other major league clubs who were offered the team’s $25 million man in trade over the winter are now happy they didn’t bite — even though the Phils were reportedly willing to eat most or all of his monstrous $60 million contract.

Phillies fans are starting to notice — and boo.

The Phillies suffered a tough 4-3 extra-inning loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, but it was an especially frustrating day for Ryan Howard.

The first baseman finished the day 0-for-4 and struck out swinging all four times as the team’s cleanup hitter, drawing boos from the 30,094 fans at Citizens Bank Park. Howard came up to bat with runners in scoring position in the first, third and fifth innings, but he was unable to bring any of them home.

“All I can say is tough game,” Howard said before leaving the clubhouse without formally addressing the media. “That’s all I got today.”

Howard is now batting .150 after going 3-for-20 to start the season. Three of his four strikeouts on Sunday came against Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who whiffed eight batters in six innings of work.

“Howie is just looking for some consistency,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “He was a little bit behind the fast ball off of Scherzer and just didn’t connect today, but he continues to work at things. One swing of the bat somewhere in there could have made a difference.”

Darin Ruf, who tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh after hitting his first career pinch-hit home run, eventually came in to replace Howard at first base.

Howard’s dismal showing was particularly discouraging because he finished 2-for-4 with an RBI in Saturday’s 3-2 walk-off win against the Nationals. Sandberg said he thinks Howard’s struggles at the plate may have also been due to the fact that he was facing a premier pitcher in Scherzer.

“Hopefully this is a one game thing against a guy that had pretty good stuff and a real live fastball,” Sandberg said. “[Scherzer] made some pitches on him. Hopefully Howie can regroup. He’s going to continue working at it, I know that. He spends a lot of time working at it. He’s looking for consistent contact. Saw some signs of it in the home stand, so hopefully it was a one day thing.”

Howard hit 23 home runs with 95 RBI but struck out 190 times while batting .223 for the Phillies last season. He has $60 million remaining in his five-year, $125 million contract he signed with the Phillies in 2010.


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