Motivated Howard eyes healthy, productive '14

slideshow-phillies-ryan-howard-uspresswire.jpg

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.”

Jerad Eickhoff pitches well in beating White Sox, but why the quick hook?

Jerad Eickhoff pitches well in beating White Sox, but why the quick hook?

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — From the season-ending injuries to Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin to the on-the-mound struggles of Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson, the Phillies have had some unwelcomed issues with their prized young starting pitchers recently.
 
Jerad Eickhoff has been a most pleasant exception.
 
The 26-year-old right-hander delivered six innings of two-run ball in leading the Phillies to a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Eickhoff came to the Phillies organization in July 2015 as part of the trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas. He rose to the majors a year ago this week and has now made 34 starts at the game’s highest level. His performance has been pretty encouraging as he has racked up a 3.57 ERA in 206 2/3 innings, basically a full season of work.
 
“He's been the guy who has been the most consistent,” said manager Pete Mackanin, referring to the team’s group of young starters. “He's given us what we wanted. He's had some hiccups, but I expect him to pitch well every time he goes out. I feel confident in him.”
 
At 6-4, 250 pounds, Eickhoff has a workhorse body. He is the only Phillies’ starter to remain healthy this season and the club clearly wants him to stay that way, both for the remainder of the season and the future.
 
That was the explanation that Eickhoff received in the dugout from Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure when he was removed from Wednesday night’s game after just six innings. Eickhoff had a 4-2 lead at the time and had thrown just 71 pitches thanks to his cruising through the first five innings on one hit.
 
“A little bit, yeah,” said the pitcher when asked if he was surprised by the quick hook. “But once Mac and Pete made it clear what was going on, it’s a no-brainer. It’s part of the game. I was just happy to get through it and be done and be healthy.
 
“What they said is they want me to make every start this year and be healthy. You can’t complain about that. I’m very lucky and very fortunate to be healthy this year.”
 
So the Phillies are managing Eickhoff's workload. Makes sense with this being a rebuilding season.

But Mackanin had a different explanation for his decision to remove Eickhoff. The pitcher gave up a two-run home run in the sixth inning as his problems in that inning (12.32 ERA as opposed to 2.64 in the first five) continued. Mackanin said he yanked Eickhoff because he wanted to make sure that nothing “snowballed” on the pitcher and he left the game with a good vibe.
 
“He pitched well,” Mackanin said. “I got him out of there after the sixth because I wanted him out on a positive note. He's been struggling in the sixth inning and after that, so I didn't want him going back out there. We have three guys I have confidence in in (Edubray) Ramos, (Hector) Neris and (Jeanmar) Gomez, so it worked out for us.”
 
Mackanin was asked whether the Phillies have Eickhoff on an innings limit. He is up to 155 2/3 innings. He threw 184 1/3 innings last season.
 
“No, no, not at all,” Mackanin said. “I don't know how many pitches he threw. Did he even have 80 pitches? I wanted him out on a positive note. We won, so I guess I made the right move. That's how it works, right?”
 
Ramos, Neris and Gomez protected the lead, though Gomez walked a tightrope and gave up a run in garnering his 34th save.
 
Neris allowed a leadoff walk in the eighth then got three quick outs. Since the All-Star break, he has pitched 18 1/3 innings and given up just one run. He has walked two and struck out 26. Pretty good.
 
After being outscored 18-1 in their previous two games against the White Sox and Cardinals, the Phillies’ bats finally produced some timely hitting. Tommy Joseph had a double, his 17th homer and scored two runs. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Joseph’s homer in the top of the sixth against James Shields gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Eickhoff hasn’t had many of those.
 
“He gets no run support,” Joseph said. “To be able to do that for him is huge.”
 
Eickhoff gave up three hits, including a two-run homer to Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the sixth, but he did limit the damage and got out of the inning with the lead. His handling of adversity in that inning was encouraging but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the game.
 
Mackanin said he wanted Eickhoff to go home with a good feeling.
 
Eickhoff said the team was looking out for his health.
 
Whatever the real reason was, they both made sense in a rebuilding season.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez pitched seven innings and appeared to avoid a serious injury when he tweaked his right leg on his final pitch Wednesday night, helping the Miami Marlins beat Kansas City 3-0 to snap the Royals' nine-game winning streak.

Fernandez (13-7) pulled up after striking out Christian Colon to end the seventh, and rubbed his right knee before limping to the dugout.

The Marlins pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh, and no injury was announced. Fernandez was laughing with teammates in the dugout in the ninth inning and joined in the postgame celebration on the field.

His nine strikeouts increased his season total to 213, breaking the Marlins record of 209 set by Ryan Dempster in 2000. Fernandez ended a career-worst three-game losing streak.

He also had the Marlins' first two hits, hiking his average to .286, and improved to 27-2 at Marlins Park.

Fernando Rodney pitched around two singles and walk for his 25th save and eighth with Miami.

Dillon Gee (5-7) took the loss (see full recap).

Cardinals tag deGrom in win over Mets
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty homered off Mets starter Jacob deGrom, powering the St. Louis Cardinals past New York 8-1 Wednesday night.

Carpenter set the tone, hitting a leadoff home run in the first inning. The Cardinals went on to win for the seventh time in nine games.

Piscotty and Yadier Molina each had three of the Cardinals' season high-tying 19 hits.

Carlos Martinez (12-7) gave up one run and four hits over eight innings. He also got two hits himself.

Roughed up for the second straight start, deGrom (7-7) allowed five runs on 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He was tagged for a career-worst eight runs and 13 hits in his previous outing against San Francisco (see full recap).

Rays overcome Ortiz's 30th HR in comeback win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- David Ortiz hit his 30th home run in the first inning, but the Tampa Bay Rays came back from a three-run deficit to beat Boston 4-3 in 11 innings Wednesday night and prevent the Red Sox from taking sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Luke Maile doubled with two out in the 11th and scored after Red Sox pitcher Heath Hembree (4-1) dropped a throw to first base on Kevin Kiermaier's grounder.

Brad Boxberger (2-0) got the win after one inning of relief.

Boston has won 10 of its last 13 games and remained tied in first with Toronto after the Blue Jays lost 8-2 to the Angels.

Bidding to become the majors' first 18-game winner, Rick Porcello allowed Evan Longoria's tying homer in the eighth before leaving with 7 2/3 innings pitched. It was Longoria's 30th homer (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Phillies got a nice start from Jerad Eickhoff, mostly good bullpen work and plenty of timely hitting in posting a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in interleague play Wednesday night.
 
The Phils had been outscored 18-1 in losing their previous two games to the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
 
The Phillies are 59-68. They are four wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff (9-12) pitched six innings of two-run ball and left with a 4-2 lead after throwing just 71 pitches. Eickhoff scattered four hits, walked nine and struck out two. The sixth inning has been a problem for him this season. He has allowed 26 earned runs over 19 innings for a 12.32 ERA in the frame. Eickhoff did hold it together and limited the damage to two runs in the sixth before handing off to the bullpen.
 
Eickhoff’s ERA in the first five innings of a game this season is 2.64.
 
White Sox right-hander James Shields gave up four runs over six innings. He is 5-16 with a 5.98 ERA.
 
Bullpen report
The trio of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out for the Phillies.
 
Gomez survived a run in the ninth for his 34th save.
 
Ramos and Neris both pitched a scoreless inning.

Since the All-Star break, Neris has pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two walks while striking out 26.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph had a nice game with a double, his 17th homer and two runs scored. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Dioner Navarro smacked a two-run homer off Eickhoff in the sixth.
 
Trade talk
There’s interest in Carlos Ruiz (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — LHP Adam Morgan (1-7, 6.21) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (11-7, 3.36)
 
Saturday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-7, 3.60) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (11-7, 2.61)
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00).