Ryan Howard was batting .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs before undergoing knee surgery. (USA Today Images)
Ryne Sandberg believes it would be “counterproductive” for Ryan Howard to rush back for a handful of at-bats in late September.
“I don’t know what 10 or 15 games would do,” the Phillies’ interim manager said Thursday afternoon. “He needs to get healthy and strong and in top baseball shape and whether or not that can happen by mid-September is a question.
“From here forward into the offseason I think he just needs to get in top baseball shape. He had a big injury and I don’t think he ever got into true baseball shape. He needs to get trimmed up to a playing weight that he can be productive at. Go ahead get him in baseball shape and be ready for first day of spring training ready to go.”
Howard tore his left Achilles tendon in Oct. 2011 and missed half of the 2012 season. He played on a sore left knee during the first half of this season and had surgery to repair damaged cartilage in the knee in July.
Howard recently began light baseball activity in Clearwater.
A healthy left leg should allow Howard to work on his conditioning. He has already dropped about 15 pounds, according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
Howard is expected to spend part of the winter in Clearwater, working with team conditioning personnel and hitting coaches.
“I think he would have something to prove and wants to have fun and enjoy his career,” Sandberg said. “To do that you have to be in shape. Get into baseball shape and let your ability and numbers fall into place.”
Amaro was recently asked about the possibility of Howard playing winter ball in Latin America. Pitchers throw a lot of off-speed stuff in those leagues and seeing those pitches would not hurt Howard. Amaro acknowledged that the idea was good in theory, but said he wouldn’t want to risk Howard suffering an injury in winter ball. Howard has three years and $85 million remaining on his contract.