After playing just 71 games last season as a result of surgery to his Achilles, and then busting up his toe towards the end of the season, Ryan Howard really needed to show the Philadelphia Phillies that the five-year, $125 million extension that the team gave him could yield better returns than his 0.7 fWAR over the last two years.
That starts with getting off to a good start in Spring Training, and Howard’s 0-for-3, two-strikeout performance on Saturday wasn’t the start that the team hoped to see.
On Sunday, Howard may have started to get himself back on the right track.
Not only did he do that with a pair of doubles, he did it against arguably the league’s best pitcher, Justin Verlander, too.
Howard’s two-bagger at the top of the second inning in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Tigers ace set the table for a three-hit, one-run inning against Verlander, and the slugger even tried to push the balky legs that have ailed him over the last year-plus, only to get caught on the basepaths on an ensuing fielder’s choice play on John Mayberry.
Still, it’s a positive sign that Howard did not seem to hold anything back, and he added another double to his day later on, also tallying his first RBI this spring against minor leaguer Kyle Lobstein.
Though it is only Spring Training, the life in the bats of Howard will likely be closely scrutinized throughout the Grapefruit league schedule, primarily because it’s him that the Phillies will be counting on all season to drive the offense if they hope to have a chance of contending in the NL East.
A .219/.295/.423 triple slash like the one he posted won’t suffice in 2013, even if Howard can still mash 30 homers doing it. What the team and its fans will be watching for is if their $20-million-man will be able to keep his strikeouts in check, and if he can get show more plate discipline and draw a few more walks.
With three strikeouts in six at-bats so far without a single walk, whether he can accomplish that over the next month or so remains to be seen.
The pair of doubles, however, is a positive start.