RYAN HOWARD hasn't heard a whole lot of boos in his first 3 years in the major leagues, during which he has been Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. But he has heard a smattering of them over the past couple of weeks, as he slowly works his way out of a long slump that started the season.

Howard was asked yesterday whether the reaction bothered him, given his exploits over his first three seasons.

"Does it bother you? I think it bothers you a little bit," said the first baseman, who hit .136 during the Phillies' most recent homestand, but has an eight-game hitting streak. "First off, I think the competitive nature in yourself, you want to go out there and get the job done, and I think, one, it's hard on yourself, because you feel like you're not going out there and getting it done. Two, it definitely doesn't help when the fans kind of get on you, but at the same time, that's what happens when you sign a permission slip to play here in Philly. You know how the fans are, and you know if you don't go out there and perform, you know how the fans are going to be."

Howard might not hear the boos much longer.

He's hitting .290 over his past eight games, has three home runs in the last six games, and extended the hitting streak to eight with a third-inning single last night.

Hitting coach Milt Thompson said Howard is keeping his shoulder in at the plate, which is why the lefthanded-hitting slugger is hitting more balls to the opposite field.

"It's not that easy," Thompson said before the Phillies' 10-3 interleague victory over the Toronto Blue Jays last night. "Once you figure it out and keep it in there, good things will happen."

Judging interleague

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who has led teams in both the American and National leagues, originally was a proponent of interleague play. He thought it would be good for the fans. And, in turn, good for the game.

But Manuel now has a couple of problems with the process. One, he feels it diminishes the value of the World Series. But a bigger concern is that a poor showing in interleague play can end up costing a team a playoff spot.

"First of all, the thing that pops in my mind is the scheduling," Manuel said. "I think some years, it plays an effect on division championships in your league. Some years, our interleague play, the teams that we play are a lot stronger than somebody who might finish ahead of us or something like that in our division. Each team will go through that, of course, but, at the same time, I look at that, and that's one thing I don't like about it anymore."

Move not permanent

Last night's lineup featured Shane Victorino in right and Jayson Werth in center for the fourth straight game. But Charlie Manuel said both will continue to see time in center. He also expressed dismay that he had been unable to work Geoff Jenkins into the lineup in the previous four games. Werth and Victorino have historically hit lefthanders better than Jenkins, and the Phillies have seen an abundance of lefties lately. *