Plain and simple, Phillies open strong

Phillies 7, Astros 3

Keeping it simple.

From not thinking too much at the plate to answering questions with one-word replies, Ryan Howard said “keeping it simple” is the key to the 2011 season.

Based on his first three games, that new philosophy is working. Howard, a notoriously slow stater, is batting .538. Prior to this season, he held a .255 career average in April.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel said about the slugger’s fast start after a 7-3 win over the Astros. “I don’t want to put a black cloud on it.”

One noticeable change is the way Howard stands in the box. He has inched closer to the plate in an attempt to spread his power all over the ballpark. His first-inning homer went 400-plus feet, landing beyond the center-field bullpen.

“My mindset is, I’m keeping it simple,” said Howard, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs yesterday. “I’m not trying to think about anything. I’m not trying to overthink anything. I’m just going up there and trying to hit.”

With Jayson Werth gone, the issue of protecting Howard was a major storyline for these Phillies. Who was going to bat fifth? So far, Manuel has gotten good production from Ben Francisco and Raul Ibanez batting behind Howard.

“The only thing I can focus on is what I do,” Howard said. “With Raul and Bennie behind me, I just have to have faith that those guys can come up and get the job done. And not worry if teams are going to walk me or don’t want to pitch to me.”

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