Motivated Howard eyes healthy, productive '14

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Motivated Howard eyes healthy, productive '14

ATLANTA -- Looking leaner and moving better than the last time he was seen on the field with his Phillies teammates, Ryan Howard joined the club for pregame workouts at Turner Field on Thursday.

Howard, who had season-ending knee surgery in July, took ground balls, batting practice and ran the bases. He will do so Friday, Saturday and Sunday before this woeful Phillies season comes to an end.

After dealing with two injury-plagued seasons and hearing the whispers -- shouts in some quarters -- that his best days are behind him, Howard says he has something to prove in 2014.

“That I’m healthy, No. 1,” he said. “And that I’m capable of doing the things I can do.

“I’m focused on getting this team and this organization back to where we belong, and that’s on top.”

Howard, who turns 34 in November, has spent the last couple of months rehabbing in Clearwater. He recently began playing in games in the Florida Instructional League. He requested to join the big club for the final series of the season in Atlanta and team officials were all for it.

“I just wanted to be here, end the season with the fellas,” he said. “I know it’s been a hard year for us as an organization, for us as a team, for myself personally. I just wanted to be here with them, be able to ride it out and just kind of watch, cheer them on the rest of the way and hopefully end things on a good note and head into 2014 on a high.”

Howard averaged 670 plate appearances from 2006 to 2011. He had just 654 total plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 as he dealt with injuries to his left Achilles and knee.

Howard’s production slipped with his health.

“It’s my back foot, my pivot foot, my power foot,” he said of his left side. “Not being able to sit back on it as much as I want in my stance -- pivoting on it, moving on it. I would say, yeah, it definitely played a factor.

“It’s not what you sign up for. It’s the unfortunate side of the game where sometimes injuries happen, freak things happen. For me, it’s just about getting 100 percent healthy, getting back to where I know I can be, how I know I can play. I’ll put all my focus on that this offseason and come out ready for 2014.”

The leg injuries prevented Howard from getting in top physical condition the last two seasons, and that affected his play.

New manager Ryne Sandberg is stressing conditioning with the whole team. He has mentioned a number of times that, while he understands why Howard wasn’t in top shape the last two seasons, he wants him to reach that point in 2014.

Howard said he was about 260 pounds before the surgery in July. He said he was about 248 Thursday. He looked trimmer, but stronger. He’s been working in the weight room in Clearwater. Howard said he will spend some time in Philadelphia the next few weeks then return to Florida in mid to late October. He will stay on a fitness program regardless of where he is. He will start hitting and doing baseball work in December.

“Obviously, when you can’t use your legs, it’s tough to do cardio,” Howard said. “The goal is to have my legs this offseason and do the cardio and everything that I need to do -- work on speed and agility. My goal is to come back and be as efficient as I can be for 2014, in all aspects.”

Howard's goal is to play in 162 games next season. That won't happen. Sandberg will get him days off. Still, Sandberg hopes that Howard produces to the point where it's difficult to give him a day off.

Howard played in 80 games this season and hit .266 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs. He struck out 95 times in 286 at-bats. Against lefties, Howard hit just .173 (14 for 81).

Sandberg has questioned Howard’s game preparation. The manager said he would like to see Howard look at more video of opposing pitchers.

“There are some times when I go in and look at video," Howard said. "I understand it, and I think it’s something I will try more to incorporate next year. Before it was one of those things where if I felt good, I didn’t feel like I needed to look at video. But I think it is something I’ll incorporate more next year.”

Howard is owed $85 million the next three seasons. That makes him virtually untradeable. He is aware that some have written him off, and he said he draws motivation from that.

“Sure,” he said. “I think it drives people. I think a lot of guys say they don’t listen to it -- and you try not to -- but, you know, it trickles in. You become motivated, a little fired up as far as that is concerned. But the main focus is for me to be fired up for myself, wanting to prove it to my teammates more than someone else.

“I’ve seen the stuff. I’ve seen stuff in the offseason when we didn’t make the playoffs. All you can do is go out there the next year and put your best foot forward -- play for yourself, play for your teammates, your organization, your fans. Just put all that to rest by doing it on the field.”

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

Marlins acquire SP Andrew Cashner from Padres

Marlins acquire SP Andrew Cashner from Padres

MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins acquired the pitching reinforcements they sought in a trade that cost them four players, including two minor leaguers.

Right-handers Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea were sent to Miami by the San Diego Padres in a seven-player deal.

The Marlins, eager to shore up their rotation for a playoff push, will also receive pitching prospect Tayron Guerrero for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitching prospect Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

Cashner is 4-7 this year with a 4.76 ERA in 16 starts, and has a career record of 30-49 with a 3.73 ERA in seven seasons. Rea, who is in his second major league season, is 5-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 19 games this year.

Cashner has a $7.15 million contract and becomes a free agent after this season. Rea, 26, has a salary of $510,200 and is under team control through 2018.

The prize in the deal for the Padres might be Naylor, 19, a left-handed power hitter taken by the Marlins in the first round of the 2015 draft. He is batting .269 with nine home runs this year for Single-A Greensboro.

Cosart went 13-11 in 2014 with Houston and Miami but has struggled since. This year he's 0-1 with a 5.95 ERA in four starts with the Marlins, and 3-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A New Orleans.

Capps, a hard-throwing reliever, underwent Tommy John surgery in March and is expected to be ready for opening day 2017.

The Marlins are in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003 despite a shaky rotation. Aside from ace Jose Fernandez, their starters are 23-24 with an ERA of 4.40.

Miami's rotation was further depleted last week when left-hander Wei-Yin Chen went on the disabled list because of a sprained elbow. Cashner and Rea will join Fernandez, Tom Koehler and Adam Conley.

The trade is the second between the teams this summer. In June, the Marlins acquired All-Star reliever Fernando Rodney for a minor league pitcher.