Ted Williams did it. So did Mark McGwire.
Ryan Howard is that kind of hitter when he is on a roll. Lately, well, the big fella has been that guy. In his last eight games he is 12-for-28 (.429) with seven extra-base hits (four homers) with six walks and 12 RBIs.
But there are a few interesting items about Howard’s latest surge. For one thing he has moved in closer to the plate. As a result of that the slugger is able to hit pitches the other way and is able to reach off-speed and breaking pitches better.
The second and biggest reason why Howard has been hitting the ball better is that in the last eight games he hasn’t faced too many lefties. In fact, in the last eight games Howard is 4-for-6 against lefties. That’s pretty good for Howard considering he is hitting just .196 (33-for-168) with 13 extra-base hits against southpaws this season.
Still, in only getting six at-bats against lefties over the past week means Howard gets to face right-handers and he eats those guys up. Over the recent spate of good hitting, Howard is 8-for-22 against righties and has 27 of his 30 homers against right-handers.
The thing is, the recent .363 batting average against righties is only slightly better than his season rate. With a .314 batting average and 1.085 OPS in 271 at-bats against righties this year, it’s a wonder why any team would ever bring in a right-handed reliever to face Howard.
Nevertheless, last week Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella did just that. With two outs and the bases loaded Piniella allowed righty Carlos Marmol to face Howard even though he had two lefties (Sean Marshall and John Grabow) available in the bullpen. No, they weren’t warming up, but Piniella had them if he had chosen to look at the season splits and seen that Howard just doesn’t hit lefties too well.
In that situation at Wrigley, Marmol walked Howard to force in a run and to give the Phillies the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. Had closer Brad Lidge nailed it down in the ninth, Howard’s bases-loaded walk would have been the most pivotal play in the game.
So if opposing managers are smart, they’d get their lefties ready to face Howard. Otherwise, he just might keep the good times rolling.