Publicly, the Phillies are taking a wait-and-see approach on Howards readiness for opening day.
Privately, the team probably has a much different mind-set. Privately, team officials may have already ruled out Howard for the April 5 season opener in Pittsburgh.
Why do we believe this?
Because the last couple of years, coinciding with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridans rise, the team has become more conservative in the time it takes getting banged-up players back on the field. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino took extra time with nagging leg injuries the last couple of seasons. The exception was Howard himself, who pushed it to come back quickly from a sprained left ankle late in the 2010 season. He was still bothered by the problem last spring.
With the benefit of time, the Phillies can afford to be extremely conservative with Howards return. The regular season lasts six months and often comes down to the final weeks. It makes sense to hold Howard back at the start of the season to ensure that hes strong for the finishing kick.
Also, Howard is beginning a five-year, 125 million contract. The Phils know they need to protect this investment and would be willing to eat a few weeks of Howards 2012 season to do it. And, lest we forget, it could be cold in Pittsburgh on April 5. Would that be an ideal condition for Howard to increase the test on his surgically repaired Achilles tendon?
Baseball is a game where patience can be valuable and you can be sure the Phillies will be super-patient with Ryan Howard, no matter how his recovery goes in the coming weeks.