Ryan Howard’s return from surgery to repair the Achilles tendon that he ruptured on his last swing of the 2011 season is not going as well as anticipated. The process of rehabbing such a devastating injury is long enough to begin with, but Howard recently encountered a setback (regardless of how adamant team officials are that the latest developments are in no way a setback) that could delay his return even further. His return was originally anticipated for the middle of May, but considering the recent complications he has faced, that is becoming less and less likely with every day Howard remains sidelined.
The star first baseman had been working out on the field with his teammates at their spring training facility in Florida when he developed an open wound in addition to an infection in the area immediately surrounding his incision. In order to treat the infection, Howard traveled to Baltimore on February 27 to have the wound cleaned. Ever since his emergence from that procedure he has been confined to a walking boot. At this point, there is not even any speculation about a timetable for a possible return. Team officials have indicated that the infection is under control, but they are understandably treating the situation very delicately so as to prevent the infection from returning. General Manager Ruben Amaro is under the impression that Howard is still at least a week away from being able to ditch the walking boot.
It is obviously difficult to replace a player of Howard’s caliber, and the Phillies are likely to employ a platoon approach to fill the void left by the absence of the star slugger at first base and in the cleanup spot of the lineup. Ty Wiggington will likely see the lion’s share of time at first base in addition to John Mayberry, Jr., while Jim Thome and Laynce Nix will be available if necessary. Hunter Pence appears to have solidified his position as the cleanup hitter in Howard’s absence.
The Phillies seem to be confident that they have enough pieces in place to weather this storm, but they understandably want Howard back as soon as possible. At the same time, it is imperative that they make sure everything is completely healed, whether it is the infection or the original surgery. The last thing that anyone involved in the situation wants is to rush Howard back and have this turn into something that plagues him all year.