WASHINGTON - Ryan Howard took three of his best swings of the season last night, and the long-term impact of them eventually might outweigh the short-term.

Howard smacked two ballistic home runs and added a hard-hit double in the Phillies' 12-2 ambush of the Washington Nationals.

It was the kind of game that can build confidence, the kind that finally may get the Phillies' cleanup man producing runs the way he did in his first 2 1/2 seasons in the majors.

"Confidence-wise, I'm fine," said Howard, who raised his batting average from .183 to .195. "It's just a matter of balls falling in. I have to keep taking it at-bat to at-bat and get the momentum going."

Though Howard's batting average has inched upward since bottoming out at .163 on May 7, he seldom has swung the bat with the menacing authority he had last night.

In particular were the two homers he hit, both scorchers to right-center at Nationals Park.

He hit an 0-2 slider from starter Matt Chico into the second deck in the fifth inning.

"They don't get much better than that," manager Charlie Manuel said of the swing that produced that blast.

Though no official distance was given, official scorer David Vincent said it was the longest home run hit in the 24 games played at the newly opened ballpark.

Informed of that, Howard said, "It's early."

In the sixth inning, Howard scorched the first pitch from reliever Chris Schroder into the seats for his 12th homer of the season.

That two-run shot came as the Phillies scored eight runs in the inning to turn the game into a rout. The 12 runs were a season high.

Howard even had a good at-bat when he didn't put the ball in play. In the seventh, he fell behind Schroder, 1-2, then worked the righthander for a walk, laying off a couple of change-ups.

Howard started producing early. Facing Chico in the first inning, he drove a two-out double to left-center to score Shane Victorino with the Phillies' first run of the game.

"The ball to left-center, he went with it good," Manuel said. "And the two homers to right-center, he wasn't trying to pull them. He just hit them."

The Phils also got homers from Pedro Feliz and Victorino en route to a 15-hit output.

The offense had been sporadic leading up to last night's explosion.

Could this have been a launching-pad type of game?

"It's one night," Manuel cautioned. "We've got to do it the next night and the next night. It's an everyday process. You can celebrate it for a little while, then you take a shower and leave and it's over."

Jamie Moyer was the beneficiary of all that offense as he improved to 4-3 with his 234th career win.

Moyer did not give up a run while scattering seven hits over six innings. The 45-year-old lefthander is tied with Cole Hamels for the team lead in quality starts - six or more innings pitched, with three or fewer earned runs.

While the Phillies were happy to put 12 runs on the board, this game is still about starting pitching. Hamels and Moyer have combined for 13 scoreless innings in the last two games. Kyle Kendrick looks to continue the pattern tonight in Houston.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury
at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.