To invoke a baseball metaphor, Carly Fiorina has been called up from the minors to the major leagues. After her widely praised debate performance last week, she can expect “fastballs” to be thrown at her head, not only by some of her Republican opponents, but by Democrats. It has already started.

The first pitch at Fiorina is the number of jobs lost during her tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. While some say she is technically correct that the company’s income grew while she ran it, thousands of people lost their jobs, as did many others during the 1990s economic downturn in the technology industry. There is a good answer for this beyond the technical one she has been giving and it can be grafted into an argument about the need to reduce the size and cost of the federal government.

Just as trees need to be pruned to remain healthy and grow, so too must companies occasionally “prune” employees in order to grow, pay dividends to stockholders and eventually hire more people, including, on occasion, some who were previously laid-off.

Fiorina can help advance her candidacy by shifting the debate from lowering taxes to pruning spending. This year, the federal government is projected to take in a record $3.18 trillion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. And yet, for 45 of the last 50 years, the government has overspent and had to borrow money to meet its spending addiction. Less spending reduces the “need” for more taxes.

Fiorina can help advance her candidacy by shifting the debate from lowering taxes to pruning spending.

I asked Fiorina about this in an email. She replied: “Washington doesn’t know where all our tax dollars are going … because they never examine any budget from top to bottom — and haven’t for decades. What we know is that every year, every government agency spends every dime they are entitled to — whether they need to or not — because they want to make sure the appropriations process is focused on the rate of increase for the following year.”

The result, she says, is “our government (is) so big, so bloated, and so corrupt that it no longer serves the people it was designed to serve.”

She would move to a zero-based budgeting standard to force every government agency to justify what it spends. She should consider going a step further and force every agency not only to justify its budget, but its very existence. As Ronald Reagan quipped, “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.”

Fiorina might promise, if elected, to call in a group of outside auditors who have no ties to anyone doing business with the federal government and conduct a top-to-bottom audit that would expose waste, fraud, abuse and unnecessary spending. Their findings would be presented to Congress. A President Fiorina and the public would then pressure Congress to accept its recommendations.

Here’s something else Fiorina might do that Republicans in general are not known for: grab the compassion issue from Democrats and make it her own. Promise to mobilize the thousands of churches in America and lead them in what they should be doing anyway — helping the poor become less so. Two members of my church have decided to leave the comfortable confines of a Sunday school class and spend time at an inner-city mission in Washington, helping poor and homeless people acquire life skills that can lead to a job, independence and a sense of dignity. I have had similar experiences helping the less fortunate escape difficult circumstances and it pays better dividends than anything politics can offer.

Real compassion is helping people out of poverty, not sending them a government check, which mostly sustains them in poverty. Fiorina should also begin featuring in her speeches and on platforms people who have overcome difficult circumstances as an inspiration to others.

Historically, women seem to model compassion better than men. Fiorina should take advantage of this characteristic.

Call it hardball with a soft cover.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.