Howard plays first base in latest rehab step
LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Out in centerfield at FirstEnergy Park, a red No. 29 is stamped onto the wall and circled in blue. Arching above it, also in red, is the name “Howard.”
The BlueClaws retired Ryan Howard’s Lakewood number back in 2010. In his first rehab assignment on Thursday night, Howard was forced to wear No. 52 – the only jersey the BlueClaws had available that would fit the first baseman. On Friday night, Howard took the field wearing No. 29. Lakewood was kind enough to un-retire his old minor league number for the special occasion.
It marked the first time Howard played first base since that fateful and unfortunate evening last October when his season – and the Phillies’ – ended with the indelible image of him crumpled on the ground, just beyond the batter’s box, while clutching his ruptured Achilles.
Howard said his situation is progressing. His rehab is about taking figurative and literal steps. On Thursday, he hit and ran the bases. On Friday, as the crowd roared its approval, Howard had his name announced with the rest of the BlueClaws. Then he trotted out to the field and took his position at first base.
"Getting back into the flow, getting back out there, it was a good start," Howard said.
As the game against the Hagerstown Suns began, Howard pointed to the crowd near the BlueClaws' dugout and quickly tipped his cap. There weren’t many – or really any – taxing plays for Howard. He finished off a nicely turned 6-4-3 double play in the first inning, and he had to reach down and bend (slightly) to grab a somewhat low throw from third baseman Maikel Franco in the second inning. On the whole, it was an uneventful evening in the field.
"Getting the read off the bat, being involved in double plays, that's all part of it," Howard said. "There were some foul balls and I was able to move laterally and get to some things. It felt good."
Howard came out of the game after five innings. Not playing the entire night was part an orchestrated plan that came from "up top," Howard said.
At the plate, Howard had a single and a strikeout in two at-bats. On Thursday, Howard began his rehab assignment with two hits and three RBIs as Lakewood’s designated hitter.
Howard is expected to DH in Lakewood again on Saturday night.
"You don't want to do too much too soon," Howard said. "There are plenty of games left."