Notes: Rowand finding his stroke
Phillies center fielder is riding a 13-game hit streak
PHILADELPHIA -- With each of the hard-hit balls that have turned into hits during his 12-game hitting streak, Aaron Rowand's left ankle feels that much better.Rowand missed nearly two months of 2006 because of his May collision with the center-field fence (broken nose and broken orbital bones in his left eye) at Citizens Bank Park and a late August collision with Chase Utley at Wrigley Field that resulted in a fractured left ankle. That ended his season. Any frustration from a .171 Spring Training average has become a footnote to a hot start. Rowand entered Tuesday's game hitting .364, with two homers and eight RBIs. A second-inning double extended his hitting streak to 12 games. "I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm just trying to be consistent, see the ball and stay level through it. Fundamentally, I'm staying on my legs better. I can't explain it. I'm just working constantly with [manager] Charlie [Manuel] on my mechanics." It helps that the weather has warmed up for Rowand, who admits that his left ankle acted up on the colder days earlier this season. He also credited more offseason time in the batting cage -- he started hitting a month earlier -- as assisting in his preparation. "I still have days when it hurts, but that's part of having surgery," Rowand said. "Last year was my most frustrating season in the big leagues yet. Not being able to be out there was really frustrating. I'm thankful that I'm healthy now." Watch out, Mr. Smith: These are dangerous times for Matt Smith, as the lone bullpen lefty continues to struggle. His Sunday outing against the Reds continued the maddening control problems that don't instill confidence in a manager. Brought in to face lefties Josh Hamilton and Adam Dunn, Smith got Hamilton, but walked Dunn, his eighth walk of the season in only 3 1/3 innings. "Right now, he's having problems with command, but I think his motion and stuff is definitely good enough to get lefties out," Manuel said. "I like the way his fastball sneaks up and rises on lefties a little bit. I think he'll be successful in that role." Smith just hasn't been, as of yet. He also had a rough start to Spring Training, before making a mechanical adjustment that he feels helped. Smith's issues have led Manuel to ponder other options. Some are radical, like perhaps using Jamie Moyer to retire a tough lefty, but only if Moyer is available -- a tactic similar to what Yankees manager Joe Torre did with Andy Pettitte on Sunday against the Red Sox.
"I might, against a lefty," Manuel said. "Jamie Moyer is on a really tight routine. That's the only thing that would stop us and the only thing to be concerned with.
"Torre goes back to the days when he was playing and we had four-man rotations. When you ran short, somebody on the third day that would throw a [bullpen session, and therefore be fresh] -- like a Jim Kaat could do that."A more conventional solution is to add lefty Fabio Castro, who has done well at Triple-A Ottawa. That could mean a demotion for Francisco Rosario, though the Phillies would risk having to put him through waivers. Smith is aware of the situation, and knows he needs to improve. "I had good outings with New York and never thought I'd get sent down and then the next day I did," Smith said. "Once you start [thinking you're safe], you get yourself in trouble. All I'm thinking about is going out there and doing something positive. This game is hard enough. Once you stop being mentally strong, the wheels fall off and that's the point I told myself I won't get to this year." Quotable: "I'm not superstitious, but I don't want to tamper with anything, either." -- Manuel, answering a question as to whether he was superstitious during a winning streak. Quotable, part II: "In Wiffle Ball, that's an out!" -- Adam Eaton, on Morgan Ensberg's two swings on the same pitch, in Monday's 11-4 win over the Astros. Coming up: Right-hander Jon Lieber seems happy to be back in the rotation after beginning the season in the bullpen. He had an excellent first outing, going 5 2/3 innings against the Reds on Friday, allowing just one hit, one walk and striking out five, but didn't factor in the decision. The effort dropped his ERA to 3.38 in eight innings of work in 2007. On Wednesday night at 7:05 ET, he'll take the ball against the Nationals.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.