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.”

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Tuesday night's Phillies-Marlins game at Citizens Bank Park has been postponed because of rain.

Details for a makeup date will be announced at a later time.

The Phillies, winnners of four straight, were set to open a three-game set against Miami.

Following this series, the Phillies head out on a seven-game road trip starting Friday night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Vince Velasquez, who was scheduled to pitch Tuesday, will now start Wednesday night's game, while Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound Thursday afternoon.

Vince Papale to Brock Stassi: 'We call that the last laugh'

Vince Papale to Brock Stassi: 'We call that the last laugh'

Former Eagle Vince Papale, the inspiration for the movie "Invincible," paid a visit to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday afternoon to meet Phillies outfielder Brock Stassi. Papale wanted to give him a copy of the film "Invincible" -- a movie Stassi has yet to see -- and talk to another Philadelphia athlete who has played the underdog role.

Papale said he couldn't help but get choked up when he first saw the video of Stassi being interviewed after he made the Phillies' roster (watch above).

"Brock's story came on and I started doing one of these," Papale said as he reached to wipe the fake tears from his eyes. "So I got my wife Janet and I said, 'You gotta come in and see this.' And I texted my son Vince down at Delaware and said, 'You see this guy? He's just like us.'

"I contacted (Phillies publicity director) John (Brazer) and texted him right then and said I wanted the film rights for this."

Stassi, a long shot to make the Phillies' roster, was the feel-good story of the spring. The six-year minor leaguer had a spring training to remember, hitting .306 (19 for 62) with six home runs and 17 RBIs.  

As always, when an underdog makes an impact in Philadelphia, there will be association to past Philly underdogs like Papale or legendary movie character Rocky Balboa.

"I did get a few ["Invincible" references on Twitter]," Stassi said of when he made the team. "A lot of people made that reference and I am honored to even be put in the same category as him."

Papale assumed the role of a reporter and posed a question to Stassi: "What kept you going?"

"Ever since I was drafted, I've believed in myself that I would be here one day," Stassi said. "And after my first spring, I was in extended spring training and that's a place you don't want to be when you are 22 years old at the time. And I ended up learning a lot about myself because you're playing on the back fields in spring training in the middle of the day, in Florida, in front of about five people, so it's really self-motivating.

"And that's kind of where I started to get the hang of pro ball and started believing in myself then. Because my first year was rough. My first year in Williamsport, had a terrible year. But, it ended up working out. It made for a lot of doubters. And it's fun proving people wrong."

Papale smiled and assured Stassi: "We call that the last laugh."