CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Ryan Howard has been here before.
A year ago, Howard sat in front of the media at Bright House Field and promised the season was going to be the one that shifts the Philadelphia Phillies’ fortunes. He said he expected to be healthy and felt better than ever.
That didn’t happen. The Phillies finished with just 73 wins and Howard played in only 80 games thanks to knee problems.
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Still, it didn’t stop him Saturday from again saying optimistic things about the upcoming season. Howard has lost weight, and he said the big difference between 2014 and the last two years is that he can ”use two legs.”
”I mean it’s just a case of staying on the field,” Howard said. ”My leg feels a lot better, obviously going through spring training, obviously I was out there for the first 12 games or whatever. I haven’t talked to (Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg) about what the approach is going to be this year, yet, but I think it’s going to be to try to take care of things, watch what we’re doing, get my work in and not necessarily overdo it.”
After tearing his Achilles in the last game of 2011, Howard has missed 173 games in the following two seasons. Last year, former manager Charlie Manuel played Howard in 12 straight Grapefruit League games, saying the recovering slugger needed the reps to get back in shape.
Sandberg said that won’t happen this year.
”I wouldn’t say he’ll play the same string of games in a row for the fact that his weight is better and he’s in better baseball shape right now,” Sandberg said. ”So, it’ll be a plan to get in even better baseball shape because you can’t simulate (games in the winter) and get the at-bats he needs and see how he’s going.”
Asked how many games he realistically expects to play, Howard responded quickly.
”I feel like I can play 162 games,” Howard said. ”My whole offseason was dedicated to trying to play all 162 games plus trying to make it to the playoffs. My goal isn’t to come out here and try to play 120 games. That’s not why I play baseball. I come out to try to play 162 games and hopefully we make it into the playoffs and I’m playing however many more games it takes to try to win a World Series.”
It is no secret, however, that the Phillies struggle when Howard is out of the lineup. In games Howard started the last two years, the Phillies went 77-63. Without him, they were 77-105.
Healthy or not, Howard’s presence – or absence – will be crucial to the Phillies in 2014.
”We’ve had a bad couple years and had injuries and all that stuff, but I don’t think it’s over,” Howard said. ”People are entitled to their opinions and what not and that’s fine, but it’s up to us to go out there and show them otherwise and go out and play our game and do what we do.”