Sometimes in sports a fire needs to be lit under the seat of an athlete. In baseball, usually that’s the manager’s job.
On a sports talk radio show Friday, though, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took it upon himself to apply the Acetylene torch to the seat of first baseman Ryan Howard.
“If Ryan Howard is now relegated to being a platoon player, he’s a very expensive platoon player and he needs to be better,” Amaro said.
The words “platoon player” and Ryan Howard have never been used before, certainly not by good cop Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager. Amaro had to play the role of bad cop Friday and judging by the early results, it worked.
Howard hit a 452-foot home run against a left-hander for the first time this season, supposedly his answer to the platoon comment. No one knows if Amaro was really thinking what the next logical move would be for the Phillies. Promoting triple-A slugging first baseman Darrin Ruf, a right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder, and sitting Howard against lefties permanently was implied in the message.
Considered it delivered, at least for a day. Howard took a delivery from Atlanta Braves‘ left-hander Paul Maholm and crushed it over the first deck of seats into the bullpen in right field. It was the first home run Maholm had given up to a left-handed hitter all season.
The long-term numbers seem to suggest Amaro might be on to something by platooning Howard with Ruf in the future, however, expensive that option might turn out to be. On April 26, 2010, Amaro signed Howard to a five-year extension for a minimum value of $125 million and he hit .264 against left-handed pitching.
In the years after that contract was inked, it’s apparent that was a colossal mistake. In 2011, Howard hit .224 against left-handed pitching and .320 against right-handed pitching. In 2012, it was .173/.247. This year it’s been .169/.302. Howard has been an ineffectual late-game hitter because opposing teams can count on getting him out by inserting a situational left-handed pitcher.
Worse yet, Howard has a “no-trade” clause that almost certainly guarantees he will be a Phillie until he’s 37. In his shape, which can kindly be considered overweight, it does not figure to be a good 37.
By giving Howard that big contract, Amaro has two options. Hope Howard can regain at least his 2010 form against lefty pitchers or pull the plug on having Howard as an everyday player for the balance of his contract.
Hope hasn’t worked yet, but maybe Amaro’s Acetylene torch to Howard’s seat might have done the trick. If not, there’s always a platoon waiting in reserve.