Sandberg’s Right: Howard Should Shut it Down and Get Ready for 2014

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies interim manager Ryan Howard should forget about 2013 and back next year. Photo By Webster Riddick.

Phillies interim manager Ryan Howard should forget about 2013 and come back healthy in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies at the point of their season where they are allowing their best minor league prospects to get some major league experience, this part of the season is also a time for some injured veterans to just shut it down and comeback next year.

One of the players in question is Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who has been out since early July with a torn meniscus in his left knee.  That was also suggestion from Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg.  On Thursday, Sandberg told reporters that Howard, who has been battling injuries for the last two years,  that it would better for him to take off the rest of 2013 to be completely healed.

“At this point, counterproductive. We’re talking about his health, getting healthy and getting strong, and having the offseason ahead of him. You don’t want any fallbacks or anything. I think until he gets into baseball shape, which is not going to happen between now and the middle of September or the end of September … we’ll have him get in baseball shape.”

And Sandberg is not at all wrong about that.  If he does come back in the middle of September, Howard is not going to be 100 percent and it’s going to take some time to find his groove anyway.  The Phillies have been long out of the playoff chase since losing 21-of-25 coming out of the All-Star Break.

What would be the point? As Sandberg said Howard needs to be back in better baseball shape. We have not seen the Howard who averaged 132 runs batted in and hit at least 30 home runs between 2006 and 2011 since he hurt his Achilles Tendon making the last out of the 2011 National League Division Series.

In the last two years, we’ve seen merely a shell of the old Howard. Playing on his sore left knee this season, Howard hit 11 home runs and drove in 43 runs in 80 games and had a .266 batting average. Last season in 71 games, Howard batted  .219 with 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in coming his Achilles injury. He missed the last week of the 2012 season with a broken toe.

Meanwhile, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said while he understands the idea of shutting Howard down for the remainder of the year, it might be beneficial for him to play in the last couple of weeks of the season.

“At the same time, I think it’s important for him to get in some baseball activities just for him mentally to see how he feels, how he does,” Amaro said. “”We’ve got to get him in the best possible shape.”

True, if you’re talking 2014.

Howard just started fielding ground balls Friday during his rehabilitation stint down in Clearwater, Fla.  Amaro said Howard has also lost about 15 to 20 pounds.  That’s a step in the right direction for him to get in shape for next year.

As Sandberg suggested Howard should keep working out to get back into baseball shape. If anything, I would hope that Howard would use the off-season to work on changing his approach to the plate and work on driving the balls to the opposite field while figuring out a way to be consistent against left-handed pitching.

For the last couple of years, Howard has had some type of injury or nagging injury that turned into a big injury, it would be nice to see the big guy operating at 100 percent because I think he still has a lot of home runs and runs batted in left in him.

If a healthy Howard comes back next year with the group of young guys, the team’s rebuilding process won’t be quite as traumatic as it might be in 2014.

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