SAN FRANCISCO - The foundation is weak, so the building is unsteady.

Ryan Howard yesterday admitted that the left thigh strain he suffered March 1 when the Phillies opened spring training in Lakeland, Fla., has affected him since then, and that his hectic January schedule has contributed to how he dealt with it.

"Right now, my leg and everything like that - I can't get comfortable," Howard said. "It's tough to get it where it feels good."

Would a couple of weeks on the disabled list help?

"Maybe it would," Howard said.

Fat chance of that happening. He hit a two-run homer in the third inning last night in the Phillies' 8-5 win over the Giants. But then, he has looked decent in other stretches this season.

He has minimized the injury's impact in the past, though it has played a part in his slow start. He was benched Saturday for the second time in a week; both times, lefthanders started for the opposition.

Howard entered yesterday hitting .198. He was 5-for-38 against lefthanders with 21 strikeouts. He was 8-for-44 with 21 strikeouts since compounding the thigh injury with a sprained left knee April 18.

The knee, Howard said, improves daily. The thigh nags.

His left leg's soundness matters because Howard's stance requires him to spread his feet wide, open up with his right foot slightly toward first base and his knees deeply bent. His left leg hasn't been able to sufficiently support his 265-pound bulk. He refused to take significant time off in March because he was trying to play himself into shape.

Howard's rigorous offseason regimen screeched to a halt in January because of commitments connected to him winning the National League MVP: commercial shoots, awards banquets, business concerns.

"Because of how January was this offseason, it broke up my workouts," Howard said. "I needed spring training to get back to where I needed to be."

He didn't get back. Howard hit .221 this spring.

It's on you

In the wake of former Phillies reliever Josh Hancock's death in St. Louis, as many as half of the major league teams are considering full or partial bans of alcohol in home and visiting clubhouses.

In the wake of former Phillies reliever Josh Hancock's death in St. Louis, as many as half of the major league teams are considering full or partial bans of alcohol in home and visiting clubhouses.

The Phillies are waiting to see if major league baseball will issue a directive. They are not considering a ban on the distribution of alcohol in their clubhouses at Citizens Bank Park.

"You could do it, but it's still the individual's responsibility. That's what I think," general manager Pat Gillick said.

The Phillies figure they are dealing with grown men who should be able to monitor their alcohol intake. They also note that before the fatal accident, Hancock spent almost 4 hours in a local bar/restaurant where witnesses say he was drinking.

As long as players consume in moderation, the Phillies don't see a problem. Besides, they are not enabling drinking outside the clubhouse.

"We don't have bottled products in the [home] clubhouse," Gillick said. "All we've got is taps. A guy can't take a half-dozen cups of beers home from the clubhouse."

That said, the perception of clubhouse drinking might taint the game enough to prompt action from the commissioner's office, Gillick said:

"I wouldn't be surprised if we have to do it [league-wide]."

Actually . . .

Ryan Madson sat on a couch in the visiting clubhouse in Atlanta on Wednesday and shook his head "no" in reply to a direct question about whether his left oblique hurt.

Ryan Madson sat on a couch in the visiting clubhouse in Atlanta on Wednesday and shook his head "no" in reply to a direct question about whether his left oblique hurt.

Thursday in San Francisco he relieved Adam Eaton in the sixth and allowed both inherited runners to score while getting tagged with a run of his own, making a 9-4 lead 9-7. Saturday, Madson landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, a problem that nagged him since spring training.

Madson entered the season as the Phillies' setup man. He lost the first two games of the season, had an earned-run average of 7.71 in six outings and allowed two runners to score April 17 - the day before the Phillies moved Brett Myers from the top of their starting rotation to the bullpen to be the setup man. *