Results tagged ‘ Ryan Howard ’

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:

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.


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.


Howard Back After Break?

Chase Utley is expected back in the Phillies lineup tomorrow, but what about the Big Piece?

Could Ryan Howard be back shortly after the All-Star break?

It looks like it. The Phillies announced today that Howard will return to Philadelphia tomorrow for “functional testing on his left Achilles.” If Howard passes those tests he will begin a rehab assignment Thursday with Class A Lakewood. Once a position player begins a rehab assignment he has 20 days before he must be activated, unless there is a setback. That means if Howard took the full 20 days he could be back no later than July 18, or six games following the All-Star break.

Howard has been on the disabled list since the season started because of left Achilles surgery. He suffered a setback because of an infection in the heel in February. Charlie Manuel spoke to Howard on the telephone Monday.

“More than likely, the way things look, it’ll be after the All-Star break,” Manuel said. “He feels real good. He still says that when he runs he’s got a little limp. He says, ‘I want to play and I feel like I can play.’ He says, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be where you want me to be or not,’ but at the same time he’s got to be able to go play and be able to do some things. He feels like he’s getting there. He’s very positive about where he’s at when I talked with him.”

Utley, Howard, Halladay and More

Ruben Amaro Jr. took a seat in the Phillies dugout before tonight’s game against the Dodgers to offer updates on the nine players on the disabled list.

That’s nine, folks.

Here we go:

Chase Utley (chondromalacia left knee). He did not play in an extended Spring Training game Tuesday in Clearwater, Fla., but he will play Wednesday as a designated hitter. There are no extended Spring Training games again until June 12, so in the meantime Utley will participate in simulated games and continue his regular workouts. Amaro said it is unlikely Utley begins an official rehab assignment until he plays in that second round of extended Spring Training games June 12-14. “Generally, Chase, when he’s ready to go he’ll let us know,” Amaro said. “Just like he did on Sunday.” Amaro would not say if Utley could be back before the All-Star break, but if Utley begins a rehab assignment June 15 he would have 20 days to get himself ready to rejoin the team. That would put him at July 5.

Ryan Howard (left Achilles surgery). He will hit in Wednesday’s extended Spring Training game, but he will not run or play in the field. Amaro said Howard has been jogging and doing some light sprinting, but said, “His calf just isn’t strong enough to really do full-out sprint work. I don’t know what the percentage is, 50 percent, 40 percent 60 percent, I really don’t know.”

Roy Halladay (strained right latissimus dorsi). Everybody has been awaiting the second opinion from Mets physician David Altchek, but Amaro said, “There’s not going to really be much difference in the prognosis.” The Phillies sent Altcheck results from previous MRIs on Friday and they just arrived in New York on Tuesday morning. Amaro said Halladay has started some shoulder exercises and other upper body work. “He’s doing pretty well,” Amaro said. “This morning’s report was he was symptom free and doing some of the exercises, so that’s a good sign.” Halladay could begin throwing again at the three week mark.

Jim Thome (lower back strain). He could rejoin the team in time for this weekend’s interleague series in Baltimore. It sounds like Thome will only DH and pinch-hit upon his return to the big leagues, which could be an issue. But playing in the field certainly seems out of the question. Can Thome be effective as a full-time pinch-hitter after these nine interleague road games? “I don’t know,” Amaro said. “That’s a good question. We’ll find out.”

Laynce Nix (strained left calf). He will head to Clearwater following Thursday’s game to pick up his rehab. “He’s been progressing pretty good, too,” Amaro said.

Mike Stutes (right shoulder inflammation) and David Herndon (right elbow inflammation). Amaro said they are progressing slowly.

Justin De Fratus (strained right elbow). He is throwing from 75 feet. “Hopefully we can get him going in the next couple weeks,” Amaro said.

Jose Contreras (strained right elbow). No surgery has been scheduled yet.

Turning Thome Loose

Jim Thome stepped into the batter’s box in the ninth inning Tuesday to face Diamondbacks left-hander Mike Zagurski.

He took two sliders for strikes and one for a ball before he struck out swinging on a fastball.

Too many of Thome’s at-bats have looked like that through 19 games. The Phillies signed him in November to be a late-inning threat, but so far he is 2-for-17 with two walks and 10 strikeouts overall and 0-for-8 with six strikeouts as a pinch-hitter. That is a small sample size, much like Freddy Galvis‘ 0-for-12 start was a small sample size (although there were folks who absolutely knew Galvis could not play in the big leagues based on those 12 at-bats.) But there is no question Thome doesn’t look good at the plate. Charlie Manuel was asked Wednesday morning if he needs to play him more to try to get him sharp. Manuel said in spring training he thought Thome could play more than once a week at first base while Ryan Howard is injured, but so far Thome has started just three times.



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