Howard eyeing return around All-Star break
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – As his Phillies teammates were losing their fifth straight game in Miami, rehabbing first baseman Ryan Howard arrived in Allentown later than expected on Sunday.
Howard played a full game at Single A Lakewood on Saturday and was originally scheduled to play the first game of the IronPigs’ doubleheader on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. Those plans changed at about 9:40 a.m., when the team announced that Howard would actually be playing Game 2 and offered fans refunds via Twitter.
He finally took the field for the nightcap at 6:35 in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,100, about 2,000 of whom bought tickets on game day.
Ninety minutes and five innings later, Howard’s work was complete: five plays at first and an 0-for-2 effort at the plate.
The Phillies may be floundering, but their Big Piece cannot rush to join them.
“I’m sure everybody wants me to try to be back up there ASAP,” Howard said after leaving the game at Coca-Cola Park. “But I’ve got to make sure that I’m right first and try to be able to go out there and help contribute.”
Howard said the left Achilles tendon that he tore eight months and 24 days ago felt good after being tested for the fourth straight day.
Through those first four days of his potentially 20-day rehab assignment, the 32-year-old has played 17 innings as a designated hitter and 10 innings as a first baseman. He has five hits, five RBI and three walks in 10 at-bats.
The Achilles has responded well.
“So far, it’s held up pretty good,” Howard said. “There’s been a little bit of stiffness, which is to be expected in the morning, but it doesn’t take long for that to break up. As soon as I get up and start walking around, it loosens up and then everything is good.”
The most arduous tests on Sunday consisted of running ten feet to cover first and making two scoops of wild Pete Orr and Michael Martinez throws. Howard also jogged to first during a second-inning groundout to short, and again during a fourth-inning flyout that landed in front of the left-centerfield warning track.
IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg saw the opposite-field stroke, and the rest of Howard’s night, as a positive sign.
“The first thing that I mentioned to him [after] his last inning was, ‘Wow, you look good out there,’” Sandberg said. “He said, ‘I feel good.’”
During spring training, Howard spoke often of listening to his body, letting it tell him when he should return. So while he said he would “love” to be back shortly before or after the All-Star break, much like his also-rehabbing teammate Roy Halladay (see story)
, the Achilles will have the final say.
“You never know. It all depends on how it feels and how I can get back in the flow of the game,” Howard said.
The rehab will continue with another DH appearance Monday night in Allentown, and then possibly first base on Tuesday.
It will all be easier, Howard said, than what he went through in Clearwater, where he worked out from late April to late June. It was then that he cleared the biggest in a series of hurdles leading to Philadelphia.
“Once we got on the good playing surfaces and being able to run the bases, it’s just getting more confident with it every day,” Howard said.
Eventually, Howard will make the jump from Triple A to the majors under strangely similar, yet oh-so-different circumstances to the 2005 season, when he last played in Triple A (for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons).
In May of that year, Howard joined the 11-15 Phillies as a replacement for Jim Thome, who was placed on the disabled list with a strained lower back.
Thome, of course, was shipped to Baltimore on Saturday after a bad back prevented him from serving as Howard’s stop-gap replacement at first.
Strangely similar, yet oh-so-different.E-mail Brian Kotloff at firstname.lastname@example.org