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Powers that be are silent for Phillies

Burrell, Helms: 1 HR, 22 RBI

THE PHILLIES chased Alfonso Soriano with big money in search of a righthanded bat to replace Pat Burrell as Ryan Howard's protection.

Soriano chose the Chicago Cubs, so the Phillies considered Carlos Lee. He had a home in Houston, and he went there.

Unable to trade Burrell, the Phillies signed Wes Helms to play third base and supply a modicum of power.

Burrell and Helms combined for 39 homers and 142 RBI in 702 at-bats last season.

Through 34 games this season, they have combined for one home run and 22 RBI in 204 at-bats.

That projects to less than four homers and 76 RBI in the same number of combined at-bats this season.

Their lonely homer was Burrell's three-run shot in Florida on April 6.

They have gone a combined 189 at-bats since their last homer.

They aren't worried.

They feel comfortable at the plate. They believe their relatively new approaches are better plans than trying to yank homers to leftfield, the major bugaboo when they have struggled in the past.

Their boss, however, routinely has seen his offense struggle, and he is getting impatient with his big boppers.

"Our hitters, four through seven, have got to start moving the baseball. Slug," Charlie Manuel said. "That's how we're built."

He's talking about Burrell and Helms and Ryan Howard, the cleanup hitter who is hitting .204 with six homers and 23 RBI, far off last year's pace of .313, 58 homers and 149 RBI.

But Howard, the No.4 hitter, has at least fought leg injuries.

Burrell and Helms are healthy.

Burrell has hit fifth and Helms sixth, most of the season. Manuel is talking about them.

Wisely, perhaps, they will not change a thing.

"I hit a couple in Washington last month that would have been out," said Helms, who hit a career-high .329 with 10 homers in 240 at-bats in Florida last year.

He credited a change in his approach: He tries to drive everything to right-centerfield. That might cost him some pull power, but it keeps him balanced and it helps him put the ball in play.

"I think they'll come," Helms said. "I'll just stay where I'm at."

Ditto, said Burrell.

Hitting coach Milt Thompson and Manuel convinced Burrell to widen his stance and move closer to the plate near the end of spring training. They encouraged him to put more weight on his back foot, a mechanism that keeps his hands back longer and lets the ball get a bit deeper before he commits to swinging.

Burrell, who led the majors in strikeouts looking last season, believes he sees pitches better; indeed, he leads the team with 31 walks, thirdin the league going into yesterday's games. He drew a key walk in Wednesday's win. He walked four times in the team's previous win, Sunday in San Francisco.

The walks have driven his on-base percentage to .419, 55points higher than his career average. He has struck out just 24 times, which would put him on track to fan about 121 times, a career low.

Little wonder he likes the new style.

"I'm going to stay with it," Burrell said. "If your approach is consistent, and you're hitting well, and people are catching them, what can you do?"

Manuel allows that both have come close to padding those numbers. In the midst of a 2-for-28 road trip, Burrell drove a ball to the centerfield wall Monday in Arizona on which Chris Young made a highlight-reel catch. The same game, Helms cranked one off the wall in left-centerfield, a two-out double that tied it in the eighth.

But a home run would have given the Phillies the lead and would have kept green reliever Francisco Rosario out of the game. Rosario, pitching in a prime-time role because of injuries in the 'pen, lost it in the bottom of the inning.

There are other factors.

Both have been affected by the cold and wind, which makes even smallish Citizens Bank Park play close to fair. Most of their road games have been in pitchers' parks such as Atlanta's Turner Field, Miami's Pro Player Stadium, New York's Shea Stadium, Washington's RFK Stadium, AT&T Park in San Francisco.

But these are big guys: Burrell, 6-4, 234; Helms, 6-4, 220. They comprise the middle of a lineup built to live by the long ball.

Both figure warmer weather and better luck will reward what they believe are good plans at the plate.

"Right now, I feel great up there. I'm not worried about it," Helms said. He hedged: "Not yet. But I do want one on the board."

Burrell, with 189 career homers, seems even less concerned. In the past he would have concentrated on pulling pitches, especially at the Bank, where the leftfield wall had to be moved back last year for the yard to be taken seriously.

"I'd probably be trying to hit home runs. You can't do that," Burrell said.

By the way, the Phillies won the the day Burrell hit his homer...

Which means, this season, the Phillies have won every game in which Burrell or Helms has hit a home run. *