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On a recent afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard looked up at a TV hanging from the clubhouse ceiling. What he saw was an image that already is a familiar one this season: Jim Thome rounding the bases in a White Sox uniform. "Another home run for Jim," said the 26-year-old Howard, whose emergence last season as the NL Rookie of the Year made Thome--dealt to Chicago in November--expendable. "A lot of us here are watching and rooting for him."
Many Philadelphians are keeping tabs on Thome for a different reason: to see how the Phillies' decision to trade the four-time All-Star and give his job to Howard plays out. Two weeks into the season Thome was hitting .342 with seven home runs and 12 RBIs; despite a .317 average, Howard had not found his power stroke (two dingers, two RBIs). As Chicago's DH, Thome suddenly resembles the fearsome slugger who had nine straight 30-home-run seasons before missing 103 games in '05 (back and elbow injuries), when he hit just .207 with seven homers.
"He looks very healthy and strong to me," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last week as Thome homered in three straight against Detroit. "Not having to go out on defense will be a big help for him during the year."
Typically a slow starter, Thome reversed that trend by playing in minor league games (where he could bat once an inning) when the White Sox went on the road late in spring training. "Those at bats really did it," says Thome. "Finding my rhythm and getting in the flow helped." -- Albert Chen
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