Howard at Peace with Future, Platoon

Ryan HowardRyan Howard noshed on a burrito bowl as he stood in front of his locker and discussed his future on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. He knows this is likely his final season with the Phillies, and he knows he is likely to spend it as a platoon player.

He seems at peace with the situation.

“You understand that this is the game, this is the business,” Howard said before a game against the Reds. “You understand the team has talked about going in a different direction and stuff like that. You understand that.”

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin started Darin Ruf at first base on Wednesday against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan, two days after Mackanin had Ruf pinch-hit for Howard in the eighth inning against left-hander Paul Cingrani. Howard as a platoon player has been a topic of conversation for some time, but the Phillies have waffled in the past.

Not anymore.

“Yeah, without question I’m going to continue to do it,” Mackanin said. “Like I told Howie, you know, Darin Ruf did so well against lefties (last season) I think he deserves an opportunity to see if he can make a little bit of money, too. I think if (Howard) keeps his head on straight and settles into it, I think he’s going to hit righties better. I’m looking for a big year from him because of it.”

Howard did not bristle as reporters questioned him about it Wednesday. He coolly discussed his situation.

He would have been far less willing to talk about it last year.

“I just don’t let things bother me anymore,” Howard said. “Last year I let things, I let a lot of things kind of surprise me. And now it’s like, it is what it is. You just continue to stay positive. The situation is what the situation is. You can get down about it, you can get upset about it or what not. Or you can try to make the best of the situation, when the opportunity comes.”

Howard is entering the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. The Phillies have a club option for 2017, but they are expected to exercise a $10 million buyout instead. They have tried to trade him, but have found no takers.

So in the meantime, they hope Howard and Ruf can be a productive platoon at first base. There is reason to think they should be. Howard hit .256 with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and an .802 OPS in 396 plate appearance against righties last season, while Ruf hit .371 with eight homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.107 OPS in 114 plate appearances against lefties.

“Could be dangerous,” Howard said of the platoon. “That’s what they’re banking on.”

Conversely, Howard posted a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against lefties, while Ruf posted a .483 OPS in 183 plate appearances against righties.

“Obviously it’s something that’s been talked about for however many years,” Howard said. “So it’s not really a surprise. You know, I guess Pete had his mind made up that this is what he was going to do. But it’s the situation we’re in right now. And I want Ruff to be able to go out there and tear it up. And when I get my opportunities, be able to go out there and tear it up. And just see what happens from there.”

Howard had been one of the best power hitters in baseball from 2005-11. He helped the Phillies win one World Series, two NL pennants and five NL East titles. He won the 2006 NL MVP and the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He is the greatest first baseman in franchise history

But after injuries and a drop in production since 2011 this is probably it.

“I wouldn’t say this is probably it,” Howard said. “I mean, it’ll probably be it in Philadelphia. There’s always that realization. There is no hiding that. But, like I said, you just try to enjoy it. Just really want to try and enjoy it, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, just, for however long it is that you get to play, take time to be able to reflect at times on what I’ve been able to do, what I’ve been able to accomplish. But, you know, right now I’m just staying in the here and now. It’s Game 2. Be ready today when my name is called and go out there any other time it’s called.”

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