There were question marks after Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard’s names before spring training commenced.
You can change the punctuation after the Big Piece’s name to an exclamation point. Howard is now tied with Domonic Brown for team lead with seven homers and 16 RBIs as camp winds down.
Howard is hitting a robust .329 with an impressive .700 slugging percentage. The 33-year-old isn’t surprised.
“When I was getting started down here I felt good,” Howard said. “I’m finally recovered from the injury. It wasn’t easy coming back and playing last year. I was not 100 percent, but I did my best.”
While playing on one leg, Howard drove in 56 runs in 71 games. That’s very impressive considering the circumstances. Many baseball pundits question whether Howard can once again become an elite power hitter at an advanced age after suffering a devastating injury. But Howard, who still has four more years left on his contract, doesn’t buy into it.
“I see no reason why I won’t be productive,” Howard said. “I don’t see a reason why I won’t have the best year of my career this season. I feel that good.”
Howard’s finest year was one of the greatest in Phillies history. His MVP season of 2006 is one for the ages. Howard slammed 58 homers, drove in 149 and hit .313 with an OPS of 1,084. Staggering numbers Howard would be hard pressed to repeat.
“But he looks really good right now,” a NL scout said. “He’s hitting the ball hard, hitting left-handed pitching. We’ll see what happens when the season starts, but the Phillies have to be very pleased with Howard right now.”
One of Howard’s biggest admirers is Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster.
“He is special,” Dempster said. “He’s incredible. For fans, he’s fun to watch. He’s the kind of guy you stop doing whatever you’re doing because you don’t want to miss what he does.”
Is Howard doing anything special to be this productive once again?
“I can’t say that I’m doing anything different,” Howard said. “I’m just doing what I do. I’m getting comfortable and seeing the ball well. I haven’t done anything different in the offseason.”
Other than getting hitched.
“You know, it does feel good being married,” Howard said. “I love my wife. I really am happy with my life right now. What would really make it better is being very productive this season and heading back to the World Series.”
To go deep in the postseason the Phillies need Howard to approximate what he’s done in the past.
“I’m expecting myself to do what I’ve done, which is drive in runs,” Howard said. “The bar is high for me. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be.”
Siding with the left
If you believes some pundits, Ryan Howard has as much chance hitting against lefties as he would in a race against Usain Bolt.
However, Howard is doing better against southpaws than right-handers during spring training. He’s hitting .400 against lefties, but more than half of his 71 at-bats were against righties. The numbers are encouraging.
Numbers Don’t Lie: Howard has averaged 44 homers and 136 RBIs during his eight big-league seasons. “Those are stats a player would kill for,” Dom Brown said. “How could any Phillies fan have any issues with Ryan?”