Results tagged ‘ Ryan Howard ’

Amaro on Offense, Utley, Doc and More

Ruben Amaro Jr.,Ruben Amaro Jr. met with reporters this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park as part of the Michael Young press conference, so we asked a lot of questions.

Here are the highlights:

QUESTION: Are you still searching for a corner outfielder?
ANSWER: As far as the outfield situation is concerned, we’re still trolling through the possibility of adding another piece there. And we’re also considering the possibility of a double platoon. That’s a possibility as well. We’ve done some things that have helped our club at a couple of different levels. I don’t think the process of trying to help improve our club stops until the end of the season. It’s very possible that we have the answers internally. I feel comfortable with the way our club is today and if there’s a way to improve it, we’ll try to do that.

QUESTION: Have an update on Roy Halladay‘s offseason?
ANSWER: Doc’s done very well. He’s going to start throwing off the mound here very shortly. Dubes (Rich Dubee) has seen him throw a couple times, at least long toss. I guess he’s working down there with Kyle Kendrick pretty extensively. He’s doing well, but we don’t know what kind of Doc we’re going to get until Doc’s down firing in spring training. But he’s feeling pretty good so far.

QUESTION: How is Chase Utley doing?
ANSWER: He’s done very well this offseason. (Head athletic trainer) Scott Sheridan’s visited him once and he’s probably going to go see him again. He’s taking ground balls pretty much every other day. He didn’t take a whole lot of time off. One of the things I think we’ve all learned, including Chase, that it probably behooved him to continue to work and do things to be able to keep his joints going, keep his knees going. He’s actually done very well. We have to be cautiously optimistic that he’s going to be back and playing. He hasn’t played games in spring training the last two years, but we’re cautiously optimistic that he’s going to be ready to go. We’ll probably monitor and have a discussion prior to spring training about how he’ll be utilized and such during the spring. I think he’s feeling like he’s raring to go and hopefully he’ll be ready to go April 1.

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Jimmy Is Good

The news conference yesterday at Citizens Bank Park with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel lasted 42 glorious minutes, and it pretty much had three themes:

  1. The coaching staff changes, which included Ryne Sandberg‘s arrival as third base coach and as Manuel’s possible replacement.
  2. Amaro’s thoughts on the offseason.
  3. How in the world can the Phillies possibly survive another season with Jimmy Rollins?!?!?!?!?

There were about 5,900 words in the 42-minute transcript. Nearly 1,200 covered Rollins.

Who knew Rollins was 20 percent of this team’s problems?

Listen, I understand Rollins can be frustrating. He doesn’t always hustle, and there’s simply no excuse for it. He popped out in the infield 42 times this season to lead the big leagues. That is painful to watch. He also hit just .250 with a .316 on-base percentage, his lowest OBP since 2009 (.296).

But let’s put Rollins’ season into perspective, shall we?

Here is how he ranked among all shortstops in Major League Baseball:

  • Third in WAR (5.0).
  • Fourth out of 21 qualifying shortstops with a .429 slugging percentage.
  • First in runs (102).
  • Second in home runs (23).
  • Second in doubles (33) and walks (68).
  • Fourth in RBIs (68).
  • Tied for fifth in triples (5).
  • Sixth with a .746 OPS.

Not bad.

I know some folks might not want to hear it, but Rollins was one of the better shortstops in baseball this season, both offensively and defensively. Now, one can make the argument the Phillies would be better served with somebody else hitting leadoff, considering Rollins’ low on-base percentage. (Playing devil’s advocate, Rollins’ superior base running allows him to take advantage of the times he is on base, which might explain his 102 runs scored.) But just because the Phillies don’t have another option at leadoff doesn’t mean Rollins should be pinned as the crux of this team’s offensive problems. He isn’t. But that is how it is portrayed.

“Two months ago, I heard somebody talk about (Michael) Bourn from Atlanta and you know how good he’d be in the leadoff hole, but Jimmy Rollins has more production than Bourn has and things like that,” Manuel said. “What I’m getting at is who
out there in the Major Leagues does any better than Jimmy in the leadoff hole? If you find that guy, mention him to me.”

This team has bigger fish to fry than Rollins. There is Chase Utley‘s health. There is Ryan Howard‘s health. There is the entire outfield (Amaro said yesterday nobody is guaranteed a spot in next season’s outfield). There is third base.

Shortstop is one of the only solid spots in the lineup.

Rollins isn’t a perfect hitter when compared to every other hitter at every other position in baseball. But compare him to other shotstops in baseball and he’s still producing. So focus the ire and frustration elsewhere.

Howard Breaks Toe, Season Finished

It is a fitting end to a forgettable season.

Ryan Howard, who missed much of 2012 following left Achilles surgery, broke his right big toe Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, where he dropped the lead pipe his swings in the on-deck circle squarely on his toe. Howard said an x-ray Thursday revealed a small fracture in the toe, which will require nothing more than rest to heal.

But his season is over.

So what’s next for the Phillies’ $125 million man? Only the most important offseason of his career.

Howard hit .219 with 11 doubles, 14 home runs and 56 RBIs in 71 games. His batting average, on-base percentage (.295), slugging percentage (.423) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.718) are career lows, but he projected to 127 RBIs over a full season because he hit .329 with runners in scoring position.

“I know I’m a better hitter than that,” Howard said. “But I think for being able to come in and try to do the best I could and contribute, still being able to get 56 RBIs and 14 home runs and whatnot, considering everything that had gone on and not really having a Spring Training to properly get ready for the season, I look at that as a positive.”

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The Old Big Piece in 2013?

Ryan Howard stood in front of his locker at Citi Field late last night and tried to explain why his swing became so compact and so quick in the ninth inning after it looked so long and so slow in his first three at-bats.

“I blacked out, I guess,” he said. “Maybe I need to black out more often.”

Howard crushed a 0-1 fastball from Mets left-hander Josh Edgin into the upper deck in right field for a two-out, two-run home run to propel the Phillies to a 3-2 victory. It kept the Phillies’ faint postseason hopes alive. They remain four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 13 games to play, meaning even if they finish the season 10-3 the Cardinals would need to finish no better than 6-7 to tie.

But, hey, at least they still have a chance.

They can thank Howard for that.

Howard has had an interesting year. He opened the season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery. He has played nearly every day since his return, but is hitting just .225 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Howard’s batting average, .303 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage and OPS would be career lows — by far — if projected over the course of a 162-game season, but his RBIs project to 123 because he is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.

Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel both believe Howard’s left leg has been a factor in his struggles this season. They also believe a full season of strength training and conditioning will get him back in shape.

They have to hope that’s all it takes, anyway.

Howard begins the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension next year. His numbers generally have been in decline since 2006, so unless he reverses that trend next season the Phillies are going to be in a bad spot in the future. Sure, the Phillies will try to add a bat or two in the offseason, but if it ends up being one of the guys most people mention (i.e. Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton) I’m not sure they’re going to be saviors. (I hear a lot about Upton’s tools and potential, but can somebody show me the production?) That means they need guys like Howard to continue to carry the weight.

Is it realistic to ask that of him? Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have no choice.

Bad Weekend, Bad Signs

That couldn’t have gone much worse, huh?

The Phillies entered this weekend’s series against the Astros as the hottest team in baseball, but lost three of four to the worst team in baseball. They’re back under .500 and four behind the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with 15 games to play. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to make the postseason, but …

  • Even if the Cardinals finish just 7-8 they will be 84-78.
  • The Phillies would need to finish 11-4 just to tie. That means they would have to win two of three in four of their remaining five series, and sweep the fifth.
  • And that only works if the Cardinals stumble and the Dodgers, Brewers or Pirates (unlikely) don’t outplay them.

The Cardinals play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs, while the Phillies have nine of their final 12 games against the Braves and Nationals. And again, don’t forget the Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates are between the Cardinals and Phillies in the standings.

Maybe a bad weekend against the Astros shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Phillies had been on a great run, but we saw many of the holes this team had showed the first four months of the season:

  • An inconsistent offense. The Phillies were 5-for-31 (.161) with runners in scoring position in their three losses against the Astros. Three of the top four hitters in their lineup are hitting no better than .254: Chase Utley (.254), Jimmy Rollins (.252) and Ryan Howard (.229). The Phillies have some offensive holes to fill in the offseason, but I’m sure they’ll be expecting Rollins, Utley and Howard to sit atop their lineup in 2013. That is not entirely comforting. The Phillies can talk about injuries and bounce back seasons for Utley and Howard, but it is far from a lock they will completely rebound. The numbers for those three players have been in decline the last few years anyway. Howard’s OPS has dropped every year since his MVP year in 2006, except 2009. Utley’s OPS this season (.815) is up from last year, but it’s still his second lowest since he became an everyday player in 2005. Rollins’ OPS (.740) is up four points from last season, but overall he hasn’t approached his numbers from 2004-07. Now, taking these players individually it doesn’t look that bad. Rollins ranks 7th out of 21 qualifying shortstops in baseball in OPS. Utley would rank third among qualifying second baseman. Howard has 46 RBIs in 61 games. That is 122 RBIs over a 162-game season, although his .715 OPS  would rank 16th out of 21 first basemen. But the Phillies are averaging just 4.11 runs per game since Howard rejoined the team July 6, which ranks 12th in the National League. Just because those three compare favorably with other players at their positions doesn’t mean this offense is in great shape. That’s because they don’t have a player to truly anchor the middle of the lineup, like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, etc. Carlos Ruiz has a .949 OPS this season, but it would be dangerous to expect him to replicate those numbers next season and beyond. Plus, he has never had more than 410 at-bats in a season. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, he’d have the second-best OPS on the team behind Ruiz, but it would rank just 64th out of 202 big-league players. It’s tough to score consistently when the three highest paid hitters in the lineup aren’t hitting .260.
  • A leaky bullpen. Phillies relievers had a 5.25 ERA against the Astros, allowing 12 hits, 10 runs (seven earned runs), seven walks and one hit batter in 12 innings. The Phillies struck out 13 batters in those innings, showing they have good “stuff,” but they still don’t have the consistency they need to be relied upon.
  • Starters. Roy Halladay is 4-0 in his last six starts, but also has a 4.70 ERA. That’s just not the quality one expects from Halladay. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said weeks ago it would take Halladay a long time to lose the bad habits he picked up while pitching with a strained right back muscle earlier this season. But considering the mileage on Halladay’s arm and his age, it is not unfair to wonder what kind of pitcher the Phillies will be getting next season. I would never bet against Halladay, but it also is tough to just say, “He’ll absolutely be the old Doc next year.”

Rollins, Hamels and Other Reaction from Clubhouse

Here is what some Phillies said about today’s trades that sent Shane Victorino to Los Angeles and Hunter Pence to San Francisco:

JIMMY ROLLINS
How did you take the news?
Like you take anything. It’s nothing new. I’ve been through it before unfortunately.

But this year has been unexpected?
The results this year? The record?

Usually you’re bringing guys in?
At the end of the year Shane was going to be a free agent anyway, you know? We knew that his time here was over or they were going to work out something in the offseason. The season was going to dictate the length of his time here. Even if we were winning it wasn’t a guarantee he was going to be here. The writing was already on the wall that his tenure here may have been over.

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No Boost Here

The Phillies and their fans had been pointing to last night since Spring Training.

Wait until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard get back.

Just wait.

But reality should have hit everybody in the face harder than Brian McCann hit that grand slam against Antonio Bastardo in last night’s 5-0 loss to the Braves. No two players can save a baseball team. They can help — they can be a huge help, actually — but they can’t do it alone. This isn’t basketball, where one player can take over a game night after night after night (see the Cavaliers with and without LeBron James). This isn’t football, where the quarterback’s play can elevate a team (see the Colts with and without Peyton Manning). There are many more pieces in play in baseball, which explains why the Phillies are 1-8 since Utley’s return and why Howard couldn’t make a difference last night, despite going 2-for-4 with a double.

The Phillies are 37-48, the first time they have been 11 games under .500 since June 5, 2002.

(Randy Wolf, Ricky Bottalico and Dan Plesac pitched in the Phillies’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins at Veterans Stadium that day. Jimmy Rollins doubled to score Doug Glanville in the third inning for the Phillies’ only run.)

The Phillies are 13 games behind the Nationals in the National League East. Even if the Nationals (48-33) finish 41-40 for 89 wins, the Phillies would need to finish 52-25 (.675) just to tie. If the Nationals keep their current pace, they would finish 96-66. The Phillies would need to finish 59-18 (.766) to tie.

But what about the Wild Card? There are two this year, which helps. The Phillies are nine games behind the Reds, who would be the second Wild Card winner. The Reds are on pace for 87 wins. The Phillies would need to finish 50-27 (.649) to tie. Now, the Phillies have been a very good second-half team under Charlie Manuel, playing .600 or better ball in five of the past seven seasons after the All-Star break. But only once have they played at a .649 clip or better, when they went 50-25 (.667) in 2010.

Howard said last night the Phillies just need to worry about winning series at this point. That would be a start, but you have to wonder if just winning series before the July 31 trade deadline will be enough to convince the front office not to sell? If the Phillies win every series between now and the trade deadline they will be 49-53 (.480).

Again, that’s if they win every series. No slip ups.

The Phillies need to start winning series, but they also need to sweep a few here and there. Maybe that first series after the break in Colorado. Maybe that home series against the Brewers July 23-25. If they did that and won every other series they would be 51-51 before the deadline.

Tall task? Absolutely. Impossible. Not impossible. But right now there is little reason to believe this team can play that way. Of course, stranger things have happened. Remember the end to the 2007 season. Remember how far back the Cardinals and Rays were late last season. Anything can happen. But those comebacks also are exceptions to the rule. There are many, many, many more teams in baseball history that were this far back and never made a comeback.

Do these Phillies have one good run in them? What do you think?

Hitting Fourth and Playing First Base …

The Big Piece is back.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said after last night’s gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Mets at Citi Field that Ryan Howard, who has been on the disabled list since the season started because of left Achilles surgery, is “likely” to start at first base tonight against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. But “likely” means he will unless something absolutely unexpected pops up.

“Excited to be back in Philly tomorrow,” Howard tweeted last night.

Amaro said Howard will be evaluated this afternoon before a final decision is made, but “if we feel comfortable with how he felt coming out of this game – and so far we do – then it’s likely he’ll begin playing in Philadelphia tomorrow.”

Howard played nine innings at first base in a rehab game last night with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He went 2-for-3 with one RBI. In seven rehab games with Class A Lakewood and Lehigh Valley he hit a combined .500 (10-for-20) with two doubles, one home run and 10 RBIs. He hasn’t played back-to-back games at first base, but so what? It isn’t a pain issue with Howard, like it is with Chase Utley. It’s a comfort thing. Amaro said Howard is running fairly well, although “he’s had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up I guess, but when he’s running full speed he looks pretty smooth.” But it’s not like playing a few more rehab games is going to have Howard running at 100 percent. Howard said last week he won’t be 100 percent this season.

So if the Achillies is healed (Howard said it’s healthy), he can hit (Howard said the Achilles does not affect his hitting) and he is comfortable, why not bring him up?

What does anybody have to lose?

I’ve had a few people ask me on Twitter if he is being rushed back. Rushed back? I don’t think so. It’s July 6. No, the only question I have is: Is it too late to make a difference?

“If he plays this weekend, it may not be the worst thing for him to get some time off,” he said. “You just don’t know how he’ll react and what kind of adrenaline there will be. We’ll take it one day at a time with him.”

Day 1 begins tonight.

Could Howard Return This Weekend?

Could Ryan Howard rejoin the Phillies this weekend?

It sure sounds like it.

“I guess it’s possible,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon at Citi Field. “But we’ll see how he feels the next day or so.”

Howard has played six games in rehab assignments with Class A Lakewood and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is hitting a combined .471 (8-for-17) with two doubles, one home run, nine RBIs, three walks and three strikeouts. The Phillies needed Chase Utley to play back-to-back games at second base before they considered activating him from the DL, but Howard might be different, although he is scheduled to play back-to-back games at first base tonight and tomorrow night with Lehigh Valley.

“He’s been progressing pretty good,” Amaro said. “We’ll see how he feels after tonight.”

Amaro said Howard is running fairly well, although “he’s had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up I guess, but when he’s running full speed he looks pretty smooth.”

It sounds like Howard thinks he’s ready to rejoin the Phillies.

“I think he thinks he’s ready,” Amaro said. “But we’ll see. We’re still talking with the docs and have people evaluating him every day. … If he plays this weekend (for the Phillies), it may not be the worst thing for him to get some time off. You just don’t know how he’ll react and what kind of adrenaline there will be. We’ll take it one day at a time with him.”

Reading between the lines we can make the following assumption: If Howard isn’t back this weekend, he should be back for the July 13-15 series against the Rockies immediately following the break. But both Amaro and Charlie Manuel said Howard will be evaluated after tonight’s game at Lehigh Valley. That makes you think they could give him the green light and activate him for tomorrow night’s game against the Braves.

If Ryan Howard continues on this path he should be back in the Phillies lineup sometime after the All-Star break.

But the big question for the Big Piece is this:

What kind of player will he be once he is back?

Howard has been on the disabled list since the season started following left Achilles surgery. His recovery has been a tedious process that has taken longer than expected. He suffered an infection in the heel in February, which put him considerably behind schedule. Lately he has been working out in Clearwater, Fla., participating in simulated games, but he will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Lakewood tomorrow.

He had some “functional testing” this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, and visited team physician Michael Ciccotti before tonight’s game against the Pirates. Ciccotti gave the thumbs up, so Howard will be in Lakewood tomorrow. Position players get 20 days on a rehab assignment before they must return to the big leagues, if they are healthy. That means Howard should be back no later than July 18, barring any further setbacks.

Howard said today he is not sure when he will be 100 percent healthy. He acknowledged it might not be until next season.

“If it’s 80 percent, 85 percent, the only thing I can do is give you 100 percent of 85 percent,” he said.

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