Ryan Howard files defamation lawsuit against PED accuser

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Ryan Howard files defamation lawsuit against PED accuser

Ryan Howard has backed up his threat.

He is suing the Al Jazeera network.

The Phillies' slugger filed a defamation suit Tuesday night in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit (complete document here) was filed against the Al Jazeera network and two reporters who worked on a documentary that connected Howard and several other professional athletes to the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman was also implicated in the report. He also filed a defamation suit in Federal District Court on Tuesday night.

Washington attorney Andrew H. Herman filed the lawsuit on behalf of Howard.

The suit contends that Al Jazeera "publicly smeared" Howard.

"This is a suit to redress an unjust injury to the public image and reputation of Ryan Howard, which have been damaged by outrageously false and defamatory statements recklessly published by Al Jazeera. ... The defendants publicly smeared Mr. Howard with false and unsubstantiated allegations of performance-enhancing drug use," the 25-page suit states.

The Al Jazeera documentary, which focused mostly on NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, aired last week. The report centered on the claims of Charles Sly, who at one time was affiliated with an Indianapolis-area anti-aging clinic. Sly made his claims while being secretly videotaped by a representative of the network. Sly began backpedaling from his comments even before the report aired and has since recanted his statements.

The report alleged that Manning received PEDs as he was recovering from neck surgery in 2011. Manning has strongly denounced the report and denied any wrongdoing.

The report also stated that Howard received PEDs. Howard denied those allegations to the network before the documentary aired. According to the suit, Howard's legal team warned the network not to broadcast lies about its client. The network stood by its report, which included the allegations against Howard. William Burck, a member of Howard's legal team, called the allegations “outright lies.” Burck followed up with a letter to Al Jazeera demanding a full and immediate retraction of the report. A week after the letter was sent, Howard filed lawsuit on Tuesday night.

"Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters," Howard said in a statement Tuesday night. "Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies. I will have no further comment, as the filing itself contains all I need to say."

PEDs have been an issue in baseball -- all sports for that matter -- for more than a decade. Accusations and denials are not uncommon. What is uncommon is an accused baseball player filing suit against a media outlet. Howard and Zimmerman may be the first to do so. Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong once sued a London newspaper over PED allegations.

Tuesday's lawsuit is another strong denial of any connection to PEDs by Howard. By filing suit, he is opening himself up to discovery and the possibility of having to testify under oath in a court of law.

Howard, 36, was the National League rookie of the year in 2005, its MVP in 2006 and a World Series champion in 2008. Once one of the game’s most feared sluggers, his production has waned since he ruptured his left Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 NL Division Series.

Howard is nearing the end of his run with the Phillies. His contract is guaranteed through just 2016 at a staggering $35 million -- $25 million in salary with a $10 million buyout of the 2017 season.

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

BOX SCORE

When Aaron Nola pitches like he did Thursday, there aren't too many teams capable of beating him.

Nola was locked in against the Cardinals in the Phillies' 5-1 win, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts (see Instant Replay). His first seven innings were scoreless and his pitch count was at just 89, so he had the chance for his first-ever complete game and the Phillies' first of the season.

But Paul DeJong greeted Nola in the eighth with a solo homer, and after a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter, Nola's day was done. He left to a loud ovation from Phillies fans who have been waiting a long time to see this guy again.

"Well that's the Nola we all have come to know and love," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was outstanding today. ... He was painting on both sides of the plate. Real good curveball. Threw a lot of good changeups. I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through."

Nola had elite command of his two-seam fastball and curveball on this day. Five of his eight strikeouts were looking as he continuously froze Cardinals hitters with two-seamers that started outside and darted back over the outside corner. Everything was low in the zone. The curveball was sharp and biting with late life and St. Louis' hitters kept swinging over top of it.

This was the Nola worth drafting in the first round. This was the Nola who can legitimately be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do and today was me," Nola said. "I felt confident in all my pitches today and commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.

"I always try to visualize [success]. I know what I'm capable of doing and what pitches I can command, it's just those days where you feel really good about it and you're really confident about executing to both sides of the plate."

Last year during spring training, Mackanin compared Nola's skill set to that of a pitcher he managed in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League. That pitcher was Greg Maddux. 

"I'll just say this and I probably shouldn't, but I'm just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux]," Mackanin said last February.

"He shows no fear, he's very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself."

On Thursday, Nola fit every piece of that description. And just like Nick Pivetta built confidence with his nine-strikeout performance last week against the Red Sox that carried over into a 10-K night against the Cardinals (see story), this has a chance to be a real building block for Nola.

Throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters will get you a long way.

"He got ahead of almost every hitter I guarantee you, he was strike one," catcher Cameron Rupp said.  

"And when you do that, that opens up so many doors with your pitch sequence, being able to pitch and get in on guys, maybe throw a purpose pitch for a ball, maybe they swing and you're 0-2 and that opens up the outer half even bigger. He threw strikes, he pounded the zone, and when you do that, you're going to have so much success. 

"That's what he did his first year-and-a-half up here. He got away from locating his pitches and the injuries, I'm sure, didn't help, but he attacked the zone and did a great job for us. ... When you do that, the sky is the limit, and he showed that today."

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is having a tremendous, All-Star season, but the restrictions on his usage have become a real concern.

Neshek, who has a 0.63 ERA and 30 scoreless appearances out of 31, induced an inning-ending double play Thursday to get the Phillies to the ninth with a two-run lead. He threw just five pitches in the 5-1 win (see Instant Replay).

But even if the Phillies didn't tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Neshek was not going back out for a save situation in the ninth, Mackanin said.

"I asked him to go back out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He said he would rather not, he didn't feel like he had it. 

"I would have liked to have sent him back out, obviously, because he's been so effective. However, we've got a good thing going there and if he can only pitch one inning for us, I'll take it. 

"He's been that good and I don't want to disrupt that. That's one area that I don't have to worry about. So, I did ask if he could go back out, he just thought it was better that he didn't."

Moments later, Neshek said he was not asked to go back out for the ninth.

It's the second straight day there have been conflicting messages when it comes to Neshek's availability. Wednesday night, when the Phillies blew a five-run lead and allowed runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as Neshek stayed in the bullpen, Mackanin said that Neshek had told him earlier he was unavailable. But then Neshek said that he was the one told he'd have the day off.

Whichever order of operations has actually occurred the last two games, these restrictions on Neshek's usage are affecting the Phillies late in games and they're sure to have an impact on his trade value as well.

The trade value is the more important thing here long-term because the Phillies are 25 games under .500. Neshek and Howie Kendrick are their two best trade assets, but if you're a contending team, why give up anything of substance for a half-season of Neshek if you don't even know if you can send him out two games in a row?

"He gave me the off day when I showed up," Neshek said Thursday about the middle game of the series. "I don’t know. You guys (the media) are making a big deal out of it."

Did he feel better Thursday?

"Yeah," he said. "I went out there and got the double play.

"We’ve been used a lot this week. I was kind of hoping that I might get a day today. But I understand the state of the bullpen. You have to suck it up and go out there."

Neshek has been used five times in the last seven days, so he does have a point, he has been used a lot. That's the byproduct of being your team's most reliable reliever.

At this stage, Neshek is a safe bet to be the Phillies' All-Star representative, especially because he'd serve an actual purpose in the All-Star Game as a right-handed specialist capable of retiring the best of the best.

"It could happen," he said. "There’s a couple other guys. It’s going to come down to who Joe Maddon wants for his bench. Is it going to be an extra pitcher? Is it going to be an extra hitter? They usually don’t stick with middle relief guys. Yeah, I have the numbers. But the All-Star Game is kind of a hairy thing if you’re not the star guy, if you’re not the save guy. It’s going to come down to do we need a pitcher or do we need a hitter.

"It’s really tough to make it as a middle reliever. It’s hard to get excited about anything that hasn’t happened yet."