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Howard seeking another Derby crown

Howard seeking another Derby crown

DENVER -- Keep the ball belt high, middle in and humming at 60 mph.

If Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson does that, he'll have performed a great service to Ryan Howard's quest for back-to-back State Farm Home Run Derby titles on Tuesday at AT&T Park. Then it's up to the reigning National League Most Valuable Player.

"The hitter has to do his part, too," Henderson said, with a laugh. "I'm not going that far to lose. I want to make sure the title stays in Philadelphia."

While Howard wouldn't mind that either, he's planning on enjoying his second straight Derby.

"It's going out and have fun and try to put on a show for the fans," Howard said. "That's all it is. You don't want to go out there and try to put a bunch of pressure on yourself."

Howard put on the best show for the fans at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, when he crushed 23 home runs -- some into the Allegheny River -- to win the 2006 Derby. Henderson also pitched former Phillie Bobby Abreu to a title at Comerica Park in '05. The Phils slugger is looking forward to taking his 6-year-old son, Darian, and already has an All-Star jersey for him.

How many homers Howard hits is to be determined from a field that includes Magglio Ordonez, Justin Morneau, Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rios, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.

"It's a big yard and you have the wind coming in from the water," Howard said. "It's a pretty tough place to hit. San Francisco's also usually a bit cooler, and that might play a part if the wind is coming in from the water."

None of this will affect Henderson, who has emerged as the premier batting practice pitcher of his generation. After Abreu's victory in '05, Henderson added David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada at the 2006 Derby. He expects renewed interest upon his arrival, and said he can handle up to three participants.

"That man can groove," said bullpen catcher Mick Billmeyer, who pitched to Jim Thome in the 2004 Derby, but produced just four homers. "He throws a high floater and his speed is the same. He's the best I've ever seen."

Henderson, in his 10th year as bullpen coach, and Howard have been gearing up for the Derby during the past few days, with Howard switching to Henderson's batting practice group, and working on location of pitches. Howard said it's "getting there."

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Henderson is already there, and has been recognized more often by fans since 2005. He jokingly analyzed the wind patterns when the Phillies were in San Francisco in May, and said fans have been inquiring everywhere he goes.

But when Monday comes, it's all on Howard.

"I'll be nervous until Howard hits his first home run," Henderson said. "After that, I'll relax. I hope he'll kill a few sharks out there [in McCovey Cove]."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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