CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard flashed a smile Thursday afternoon at Bright House Field.
He had doubled and homered earlier against Rays left-hander Matt Moore in a 6-1 loss. Howard is 3-for-6 with two doubles, one home run, two RBIs and one strikeout against lefties this spring. That is noteworthy because, well, Howard's ability to hit left-handers has been a bit of a topic lately.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Howard said. "No clue."
Of course, he is very aware of the talk and where he stands. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has said Howard will have to hit lefties to earn playing time against them this season. At the moment Howard, who hit a 0-2 pitch for his homer in the fourth, and Darin Ruf could platoon at first base.
"You've got to see them in order to be able to hit them and make adjustments against them," Howard said. "Spring Training is a great time to be able to do that and work on what you need to work on. It's tough, you may get 10 at-bats against lefties over the course of Spring Training. You try to take them as much as you can. You're going to see them during the season, coming out of the bullpen and sometimes as starters as well."
Howard had a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against lefties last season. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in baseball by 47 points. Conversely, Ruf's 1.107 OPS against lefties would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
"It's good to see," Mackanin said of Howard. "I think he's rising to the challenge. We'll continue to get a look at that for the rest of the spring."
Howard, who is 5-for-25 overall this spring, is in good spirts compared to last season. He acknowledged as much.
"This camp for me … I just came back trying to have fun," Howard said. "Smile again. Just putting in the work, trusting everything I was doing this offseason, just trying to relay it onto the field."
• It seems less and less likely Cody Asche will be ready to play by Opening Day.
Asche remains sidelined with a strained right oblique, although he is progressing. He played four innings in left field during an intrasquad game on Thursday at Carpenter Complex. He had no balls hit his way and did not hit.
"I'm about as anxious as anybody to return," Asche said. "It's been no fun. But at the same time you've got to realize -- take your time with it. Do it once and do right."
Asche hopes to face live pitching in batting practice at some point over the next couple days. From there, he will need to hit on the field before he plays in a Grapefruit League game.
The Phillies have 13 games remaining before they head to Philadelphia to play three exhibition games before Opening Day. Asche could start the season on the disabled list and get more plate appearances in Florida before he rejoins the team.
"I'll let them decide if they deem me ready or not," Asche said. "I'm sure they'll act in the best interest of me. I've just got to trust them."
• Outfield prospect Cornelius Randolph, who the Phillies selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft, has had his right wrist immobilized recently after sliding awkwardly into a base. The Phillies said Randolph is OK. He is scheduled to begin hitting again Friday.
• Right-hander Yoervis Medina felt a pop in his right elbow Tuesday, forcing him to leave that game against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. Medina said through a translator he has elbow inflammation and will miss the next two weeks. … Right-hander Frank Herrmann has not pitched this spring. He had a MRI on Tuesday, which revealed a right flexor strain. … Right-hander Michael Mariot remains sidelined after rolling his right ankle earlier this spring.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.