Ryan Howard stepped into the batter's box for his first round of swings this spring and immediately sent a ball soaring over the left-field fence.

He's certainly leaner, and he might even be stronger.

The Philadelphia Phillies' slugger arrived at camp Sunday intent on getting better after another outstanding season. It's hard to imagine what more Howard can do after averaging 49.5 homers and 143 RBIs over the last four years.

"I want to improve at everything," he said. "Numbers are numbers, but I want to become more consistent at everything, try to get stronger, faster, leaner and be in the best shape I can be in to help the team win. Defensively, I've still been working with (coach) Sam (Perlozzo) to get better. Hitting, I want to become more consistent. I just want to work on every facet of my game."

A two-time All-Star first baseman, Howard added an NLCS MVP award to his trophy shelf last year. He was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and '06 NL MVP. Howard hit .333 (5 for 15) with two homers, one double, one triple and eight RBIs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the championship series. He batted .375 (6 for 16) with three doubles and six RBIs in the division series against Colorado.

But Howard followed that up with a miserable performance against the New York Yankees in the World Series. He batted .174 (4 for 23) with one homer, three RBIs and set a record by striking out 13 times. New York won in six games, preventing the Phillies from repeating as champions.

"It was frustrating," Howard said. "You don't want to be that team that falls short. Somebody has to win. Somebody has to lose. They outplayed us. There's no excuses. It's done. It's over. Now we focus on 2010."

Howard worked out at the Athletes Compound in Tampa during the offseason. He dropped a lot of weight last offseason and maintained his slimmer physique this winter while adding more definition. He said he's 245 pounds, which is ideal for him.

"I'm trying to get some stolen bases this year," Howard joked. He had eight steals last year after entering the season with two career swipes. But Howard doesn't get paid big bucks for his speed - he gets it for his power.

Howard finished the regular season with a .279 average and 45 homers, and his 141 RBIs tied Milwaukee's Prince Fielder for most in the majors. He became the fourth player to have four straight seasons with 45 homers and 130 RBIs, joining Babe Ruth (seven), Ken Griffey Jr. (four) and Sammy Sosa (four).

"He looked good, real good," manager Charlie Manuel said after seeing Howard for the first time.

One area where Howard stills need improvement is cutting down on his strikeouts. He's averaged 191 Ks the last four years. He also would like to get his average up. Manuel thinks Howard can be a .300 hitter. Howard hit .313 in '06, but hasn't hit higher than .279 since.

"I think I can hit .300," Howard said. "Find grass. Hit the ball where they're not. It's one of those things where you do everything right and teams that play that shift on you or what not, it's kind of like why would you want to change your approach. If you're hitting the ball and you just happened to be hitting it

right to them and the guy makes a spectacular play or what not." Howard doesn't have to worry about contract squabbles or salary arbitration this year after signing a $54 million, three-year deal last February. He's due to earn $19 million this season, the highest on the team.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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