There’s something about seeing the Atlanta Braves that brings out the best of Ryan Howard’s power.
The veteran slugger had been homerless in 12 consecutive games before going deep in the first two of this series, leading the Philadelphia Phillies into position to sweep their NL East rivals Wednesday at Turner Field.
His 46 career home runs off the Braves are his most against any opponent, twice as many as any other active player besides David Wright (32) and tied for 13th all-time.
"I think he’s still a scary hitter," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team’s official website.
Howard, whose 126 career RBIs in 143 games versus Atlanta lead active players by a wide margin, has nine homers and 19 RBIs in his last 17 games against the Braves. His home runs have opened the scoring in the first two games of this series, including a two-run shot in Philadelphia’s 5-2 win Tuesday, and he drove in the go-ahead run in the 13th inning of Monday’s 6-1 victory.
"You’re just trying to find some real estate, trying to get a good pitch to hit," Howard said Tuesday after his 20th homer at Turner Field, best among anyone never to play for the Braves.
The Phillies (31-38), winners of six of eight, knocked Atlanta out of first place and are within five games of new East leader Washington. Reid Brignac has keyed the surge, notching his third straight multihit game Tuesday and batting .391 over his last six with seven RBIs.
"Everybody’s smiling and happy," Brignac said. "Winning changes things and I feel like we’ve just got to keep doing that."
As Brignac and Howard look to stay hot, so will Evan Gattis after being rested Tuesday. He’s batting .406 during a 16-game hitting streak – longest ever by a Braves catcher – with seven homers and 18 RBIs. He had been behind the plate for 39 of the team’s 44 innings in the previous four days.
"We’ve ridden him pretty hard," Gonzalez said.
Gattis has hit .455 with six homers and 11 RBIs in his last eight games against Philadelphia, but Atlanta has totaled four runs in the past four meetings and lost the last three.
The Braves (36-34) have dropped five of seven overall and seven of nine at home.
They’ll turn to Aaron Harang (5-5, 3.20 ERA), who has provided quality starts in four straight outings and 12 of 14. He snapped a five-start winless streak Friday, yielding a run in six innings of a 4-3 victory over the Angels.
He’s allowed just four homers through 84 1-3 innings, though Howard has three off him in 21 at-bats. Chase Utley is 10 for 22 against the right-hander but enters in a 3-for-23 slump.
The Phillies counter with Roberto Hernandez (2-5, 4.26), who has allowed no more than two runs in five of his past seven starts. He has received just seven runs of support in that span and is 0-4 in the last six.
A two-run homer to Gattis accounted for all the runs Hernandez allowed to Atlanta on April 14 in six innings. The only run of support the right-hander received was Howard’s solo shot, and he didn’t get a decision in the Phillies’ 9-6 loss.
Philadelphia’s bullpen has a 1.31 ERA in the last 14 games, walking five and striking out 41 in 34 1-3 innings.
While the Phillies’ Ben Revere (sore knee) could miss a second straight game, Atlanta’s Justin Upton isn’t sure if he’ll play after leaving Tuesday due to dizziness.