Howard will try to lead the Phillies to their sixth home win in seven games when they start a weekend series on Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park.
With Philadelphia trailing 3-0, the reigning NL MVP hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh inning and the Phillies went on to a 9-3 win on Wednesday. Howard, who batted .313 hit a major league-best 58 homers last season, entered the game hitting just .198 with five home runs.
“Ryan’s going to be fine,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Ryan’s special. He’s been kind of fighting himself. This guy wants to do so good. When it’s all said and done, he’s going to have a tremendous year for us.”
The Phillies have started slow as well. Howard’s homer helped them avoid a three-game sweep but they were just 4-6 on a 10-game road trip.
“It’s huge,” Howard said of Wednesday’s win. “We’ve been kind of up and down, trying to get a good end on this road trip. It helps us get out of here on a good note and get something started.”
Howard batted just .185 (5-for-27) with a homer and three RBIs in seven games versus Chicago.
The Phillies have won seven of their last nine overall and six of eight at home against the Cubs (16-16). Chicago lost 6-4 to Pittsburgh on Thursday, dropping two of three to the Pirates after sweeping three in a row from Washington.
Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett and Angel Pagan all homered for the Cubs. Alfonso Soriano walked in the first to extend his streak of reaching base to 26 games to start the season, and Derek Lee singled in the fourth inning to give him a 17-game hitting streak in which he’s hitting .400 (30-for-75).
Friday’s series opener will feature a pair of promising young starters. Rich Hill (4-1, 1.73 ERA) has emerged as the Cubs’ ace and takes the hill for Chicago.
The left-hander gave up one run in six innings of Saturday’s 5-3 win over Washington in his shortest outing of the season.
“This year, it’s been a good start for me personally, but there have been some starts that you have to battle through and today was one of them,” Hill told the Cubs’ official Web site.
Hill has allowed two or fewer runs in all but one of his six starts. He lost his only start against the Phillies, giving up five runs - two earned - in six innings of a 6-5 loss at Wrigley Field on Aug. 21.
Philadelphia will counter with Cole Hamels (4-1, 3.59), who gave up five runs - three earned - and eight hits, striking out nine in seven innings of Sunday’s 8-5 win in San Francisco.
Manuel liked what he saw, even though the Phillies’ first-round pick in the 2002 draft didn’t have his best stuff.
“He fought through it,” Manuel said. “He doesn’t lose where he’s at. He keeps it in perspective and has a feel for what’s going on.”
Hamels was roughed up in his only career start against the Cubs on Aug. 24, allowing nine runs - five earned - in a career low-matching two innings of an 11-2 loss in Chicago.