Amaro: Howard weekend return 'a possibility'
NEW YORK — Though the Phillies are limping into the All-Star break in last place in the NL East, there is optimism for the second half of the season.
For starters, slugger Ryan Howard could return to the lineup as early as Saturday after he completes his rehab assignment for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Howard went 2 for 3 with four RBIs and a homer in Tuesday night’s game in Allentown and is expected to play all nine innings at first base on Thursday and Friday night.
After that, Philadelphia?
“It's a possibility,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on Comcast SportsNet before Thursday night’s game against the Mets at Citi Field. “I don't know that it's going to happen, but it's certainly a possibility.”
Though Triple-A manager Ryne Sandberg and Howard say the slugger needs to work on his timing at the plate as well as around the bag at first base, Amaro said back-to-back games at Triple-A would be ideal. That would give Howard the games this weekend in Philadelphia against the Braves to lead into the All-Star break.
“Typically, he would,” Amaro said of playing back-to-back games for Howard. “He’s been progressing pretty good. We'll see how he feels after [Thursday].”
Howard is 8 for 17 in six games between Low-A Lakewood and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He has a homer, a double, three walks and three strikeouts. Though Howard has a bit of a limp when he begins to run, the slugger says it’s to be expected.
Besides, says Amaro, in coming back from a ruptured Achilles, Howard hasn’t been slowed that much.
“He’s not a speedster and he’ll probably be a little slower than he was before,” Amaro said. “He's moving OK. He’s had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up I guess, but when he's running full speed he looks pretty smooth.”
Amaro said he's been moving well on his feet, too. If Howard had a say, he'd clearly be in a Phillies uniform Friday.
With Howard likely to return soon and second baseman Chase Utley nearly ready to be “cut loose,” as manager Charlie Manuel said, the Phillies’ lineup very well could be back together. Meanwhile, ace starter Roy Halladay threw off flat ground on Thursday a day after throwing off the mound in the bullpen on Wednesday and plans another session again on Saturday.
Slowly but surely the Phillies are coming back together.
“I think what’s most important is that we’ve gotta make sure that we play good strong baseball headed into this break so that we can have some more optimism as we get closer to the trade deadline,” Amaro said. “I want to continue to be a buyer, which is what I think we are still, but a lot will be dictated by the way we play over the next couple of weeks.”
Utley gets the day off
When Utley returned last week the plan had been for him to play two games and then get a day off. So far the Phillies have stuck with that plan with Manuel putting Mike Fontenot at second base for Thursday’s series finale against the Mets.
However, Manuel says it’s more than likely that Utley will play all three games this weekend against the Braves and very likely that the second baseman can expect to see his name in the lineup every day.
"Eventually we want to turn him loose," Manuel said. "It’s kind of like string training for him right now."
In six games Utley is 6 for 22 with two homers a walk and four strikeouts. He also has three RBIs and has scored a pair of runs while handling 19 chances in the field without an error.E-mail John Finger at email@example.com.