Howard homers, moves closer to Phils return
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg wasn’t taking any chances after Ryan Howard doubled in the ninth inning of Monday night’s game at Coca-Cola Park. Trailing by a run to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Sandberg saw the big picture and took Howard out for a pinch runner.
And no it had nothing to do with Howard’s surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
“I was trying to win the ball game,” Sandberg said, somewhat humorously. “That was a big run out there and I’m not going to send him on a bang-bang play. I thought about that even before the game started.”
As Sandberg’s three-hole hitter on Tuesday night against the Yankees, Howard eliminated the pinch runner from the equation.
Howard lined a 3-1 pitch from the Yankees’ John Maine onto the berm of grass beyond the fence in left-center field for his first home run in his sixth game of his minor-league rehab stint. An inning later, Howard laced a first-pitch single off the glove of first baseman Francisco Cervelli with the bases loaded to drive in two more runs.
After Howard's 2-for-3 effort with four RBIs in a 6-5 victory for the IronPigs and a crisp seven innings at first base, Sandberg gave Howard an early start to his Fourth of July day off. Following his short holiday, Howard will return to action on Thursday and Friday where he will play first base and then he should be ready to rejoin the Phillies.
“I felt better. I put a couple balls in play and obviously had the home run,” Howard said. “It’s kind of like a modified spring training for me. When you’re out there you’re getting some at-bats and playing some defense and just trying to get into the rhythm and the flow of the game.”
It was a long day at the ballpark for Howard on Tuesday. At 3 p.m. the big fella was in workout gear and on the field taking batting practice, where he worked on his timing and making sure that he kept his hands back in his swing. He also made a few plays in the field and got to run the bases, though just like Howard promised, there was a little bit of a hitch in his giddy-up when he extended his stride.
Or maybe that was just swagger?
“My giddy-swag,” Howard allowed.
Nevertheless, according to Sandberg, Howard needs those extra swings and time on the field to get his timing back. The more he plays the better he will get.
“The biggest thing for him is his timing and getting back to where he wants to be with bat speed,” Sandberg said. “Timing at the plate, sometimes that’s just having at-bats and getting back in there to adjust to the different pitches.”
On the home run that he barreled up and lined to left-center and the hard grounder he hit inside the first-base bag, Howard stayed inside the ball. Even on his groundout to second base in the first inning, Howard showed patience before pulling the trigger.
“I was able to keep my hands inside,” Howard said. “My hands have been kind of casting around my body and coming around the ball and I was able to keep them inside the way I’ve been working on.”
Meanwhile in New York, the Phillies took their sixth loss in a row and seem to need all the help they can get (see game recap)
. Howard certainly will add a bit of punch to the Phillies’ batting order, but more importantly, his presence and attitude could rejuvenate the clubhouse.
Sandberg sees what Howard has brought to the IronPigs’ clubhouse in just a short amount of time. Players have been picking his brain and there is some extra life around the team since Howard joined. Sandberg says he sees a little extra excitement from Dom Brown, the star-crossed prospect who has been battling injuries for much of the season.
Time spent at the ballpark playing the game will do that for a lot of players, Sandberg said.
But as it goes for Howard’s immediate future, things are coming along nicely. Recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon is no small feat and to add in the infection that delayed Howard’s recovery for a bit, the slugger appears to be headed in the right direction.
“He looks good at first base and he moves around well. He ran the bases and he looked pretty good,” Sandberg said. “I don’t know if his timing at home plate is exactly where he wants it to be — probably not with not having a full spring training. But we took some extra batting practice today and got some extra swings in. He’s bouncing back each day, feeling fine and ready to get back out there and that’s a good thing, so overall he’s doing very well.”
It’s still a work in progress though, said Howard, and it’s something that will take some time.
“A lot of it is trying to keep up with the game speed and getting some reads and getting my feel and timing back defensively,” Howard said. “Hitting-wise, it’s a matter of settling in and letting all the nerves get out.”