Howard confident he and Phillies can make a run

Howard confident he and Phillies can make a run

June 20, 2013, 5:00 pm
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First it was a badly sprained left ankle in August 2010. Then it was the torn left Achilles tendon suffered on the last swing of the 2011 season. Now it’s the knee on the same leg.

“Yeah, I’m in pain every day,” Ryan Howard said.

“Some days are better than others. Sometimes when the adrenaline kicks in during the game it goes away, but when the adrenaline wears off …”

Howard cringed.

He’s not one to make excuses, but there’s little doubt the sore knee – caused by a cartilage problem – has affected his play. His mobility in the field is not good. He doesn’t have a consistently strong base when he’s in the hitting position and that has shown in reduced power. In his career, Howard has had six 30-plus-homer seasons. He hit 45 or more in four of those seasons.

In 68 games this season, Howard has just eight homers and only two in his last 36 games, a period coinciding with the knee problem he only grudgingly talks about.

“I like to keep things private,” he said. “I try to go out there and give whatever I’ve got.”

Though the power is down, the average is up. Howard is hitting .272, a big improvement on last season when he hit .219 in 71 games after coming back from the Achilles tear.

Over the last month, Howard has hit .313 in 28 games.

In the month of June, he’s hit .328 in 18 games. He has 11 RBIs in that span.

“I like what I’ve seen lately, his hitting position and the passes he’s taking at the ball,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Manager Charlie Manuel has always said if Howard hits .300, the home runs will come.

Picking up on that, Howard believes his power numbers will improve, even if his left knee is not 100 percent and could ultimately require a surgical cleanup.

“It’s coming,” he said. “It’s been an up-and-down year. My knee has been hurt. I’ve been kind of banged-up. But, yeah, I definitely think the power is in there.”

Howard, 33, is often a lightning rod for criticism. He struck out four times in Wednesday night’s 11-inning loss and failed to make a tough – but makeable – play in the field in the ninth inning (see story). His critics howled. His critics are louder than most. That goes with the territory when you make $25 million per season. Howard is in the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract. The Phillies gave him that deal a year and a half before he would have reached free agency. They were banking on him staying healthy and continuing to put up huge power numbers as they tried to stay ahead of the free-agent market. So far, the return has not been good.

“We have no regrets,” Amaro said. “We didn’t regret Pat Burrell’s contract. He helped us win a World Series and I fully expect Ryan to help us get there during the remainder of his deal.

“People forget -- he’s coming off a major injury. But he doesn’t get any free passes because of that contract. Let me tell you something: This is a wonderful human being, someone who wants to own up to what has been committed to him. He just needs to get in a rhythm physically and mentally.”

The entire Phillies team needs to find a rhythm. So far the only rhythm it has been able to find is one of being rhythmically inconsistent. Win five. Lose four. Win two. Blow a late lead and lose another.

On Friday night, the Phillies are expected to have Chase Utley back in the lineup after he missed a month with strained right oblique. Carlos Ruiz has already returned from the DL. The Phils might finally be equipped to make a run in the not-so-rugged NL East. And if they’re going to make one, it needs to come in the coming weeks as management ponders whether to sell off talent, such as Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee, or hang on to it for a second-half run.

“I definitely feel like a run is possible,” Howard said.

Why?

“Because we haven’t even begun to play our best ball,” Howard said. “It’s been an up-and-down season so far. That’s why you play 162 games. There’s two halves to this. We’re not out of it by any means. I think if we get hot and continue to build then the next thing you know, hey, we’re right there. We’ve always been kind of a second-half team. We need to try to end the first half with some momentum and try to take that momentum into the second half.”

If not, changes could be made. Amaro says he wants to keep Lee and build around him, but that mindset could change if the Phils, currently eight back in the NL East, plummet in the standings.

“I’m not even thinking about that stuff,” Howard said. “You cross that bridge when you get to it.

“You don’t ever want to get rid of a guy like Cliff Lee. You don’t want to lose that. But that’s not my call. I would hope for Cliff Lee to be able to stay here. He’s a great teammate and competitor. I wouldn’t want to see him go somewhere else. I think we can pull it together and make some things happen.”

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