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Howard takes NL weekly honor

Howard takes NL weekly honor

The numbers Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard put up last week made him practically a lock for the Bank of America National League Player of the Week award.

That happened on Monday, when Howard received the award for the second time in his career.

Howard led the NL with a .500 batting average, smacking 11 hits in 22 at-bats. He also notched league-leading totals of five home runs, 13 RBIs, 27 total bases, 10 walks, a slugging percentage of 1.227 and an on-base percentage of .636 in helping the Phillies go 4-3 during that stretch.

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Howard had five multi-hit games during the week and went 7-for-9 in his last three games. The reigning NL Most Valuable Player had two two-homer games, blasting a pair of long balls in a 15-3 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday and repeating the performance on Saturday against the Padres.

Howard's performance on Saturday was particularly impressive, because he did it at spacious PETCO Park, not an easy stadium in which to hit homers.

"There's only one pitcher's park in America, and they don't have a baseball field there. It's somewhere in Arizona," teammate Jimmy Rollins said on Saturday, referring to the Grand Canyon. "And I wouldn't be surprised if he went and knocked that wall down, too."

Howard's first half of the season wasn't quite what was expected from the player who hit 58 home runs last season and beat out the Cardinals' Albert Pujols for the MVP award. Howard spent more than two weeks on the disabled list in May and finished the first half with 21 home runs, a significant number but far off last season's pace.

With lots of ground to make up to again approach 60 home runs, Howard has shown he is up for the task. Howard has hit six home runs since the All-Star break and driven in 14 runs, giving him an NL-leading 81 for the season. Howard has also elevated his average from .256 to .279 since the break.

"He's just bigger and stronger than most guys," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said on Saturday. "It took him a little while last year to get going on lefties. Once he finds his stroke and stays up on the middle of the field, that's when he hits 'em good. A lot of his homers come from center to left. That's because he stays on the ball and he puts a stronger swing on the ball."

In fact, Howard has become a stronger power hitter against left-handers. While only batting .231 against them this season compared to .279 in 2006, Howard has 12 homers against lefties, four fewer than his output against southpaws all of last season. Howard is first in RBIs against left-handers with 32, one ahead of teammate Chase Utley.

"When I first got called up and struggled against lefties, the first thing people said was that he can't hit lefties," Howard said. "It's cool [Utley and I] are first and second. You go through those periods where you're going to struggle. The swing is starting to come along, and I'm feeling better at the plate."

This is the second time in Howard's career that he has been named Player of the Week. He first achieved the honor for the period ending Sept. 4, 2006. He beat out teammates Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and J.D. Durbin for the award.

Other players who were considered included Atlanta's Chipper Jones) and Edgar Renteria, Florida's Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla; Carlos Beltran and David Wright of the Mets; Washington's Mike Bacsik and Chad Cordero; Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs; Houston's Carlos Lee; Milwaukee's Claudio Vargas; Albert Pujols and Kip Wells of the Cardinals; Colorado's Aaron Cook; Nomar Garciaparra, Matt Kemp and Brad Penny of the Dodgers; San Diego's Chris Young; and San Francisco's Pedro Feliz and Randy Winn.

Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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