Ryan Howard is on the comeback trail

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Laugh all you want about the $105 million the Phillies still owe Ryan Howard. And laugh all you want about the .219/.295/.423 slash line the first baseman posted at the age of 32 last season in his return from a torn Achilles. In nine spring training games, Howard is looking more and more like the former MVP who terrorized pitchers across the league.

In 24 spring at-bats, Howard has slugged three homers, tied for the second-most among contestants in both the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Two of those homers have come against name brand pitchers in Craig Kimbrel and R.A. Dickey, both hit to left-center. The third, his most recent, was a tape-measure shot to right against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil. Along with the homers, Howard has hit three doubles and driven in ten runs.

Howard has traditionally been a high achiever in spring training. His OPS starting in 2011 — he did not participate in spring training last year — and working backwards to 2006 has been .904, .896, 1.180, 1.017, .710, and 1.133. Along with the fact that spring training stats are notoriously poor barometers by which to predict regular season success, one should take his performance in 24 at-bats thus far with a giant grain of salt. Still, the city of Philadelphia would love to see their star slugger back in form, reclaiming his place in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup.

Brandon Belt, Jaime Barrios set new modern record with 21-pitch at-bat

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Angels starter Jaime Barrios and Giants first baseman Brandon Belt set a new modern record with a 21-pitch at-bat in the first inning of Sunday afternoon’s game in Anaheim. Belt fell behind 1-2 and mostly kept fouling pitches off. The count ran full on the ninth pitch and Belt would foul off 11 more pitches before finally lining out to right field.

As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, the previous record was set on June 26, 1998 when the Indians’ Bartolo Colon and the Astros’ Ricky Gutierrez battled for 20 pitches. Gutierrez eventually struck out.