Phillies' Howard doubles in rehab game

Ryan Howard tips his cap to the crowd as he leaves the field after his sixth-inning double for the BlueClaws. It was his first rehabilitation start after he suffered a sprained ankle on Aug. 1.
Ryan Howard tips his cap to the crowd as he leaves the field after his sixth-inning double for the BlueClaws. It was his first rehabilitation start after he suffered a sprained ankle on Aug. 1.
Posted: August 21, 2010

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Ryan Howard returned to the little jewel of a ballpark where it all began for him as a professional baseball player eight years ago.

The Phillies' single-A affiliate, Lakewood, welcomed the Big Piece, as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel calls the slugger, as a conquering hero Friday and made him the first BlueClaw in the 10-year history of the club whose number was retired.

But Howard's teammates and the Phillies' brass were more concerned about how Howard's left ankle held up during the first game of his minor-league rehabilitation assignment at FirstEnergy Park.

So far, so good.

After a walk and a groundout to second base, Howard ripped a double to the gap in left-center field in his third and final at-bat in the sixth inning. The one-out double, which hit the wall after one bounce, broke up a no-hit attempt by Greensboro lefthander Chad James and scored Lakewood's run in the 4-1 loss.

The double concluded Howard's night. Scheduled to play six innings, he was removed for a pinch-runner.

He also committed an error when he failed to handle a throw from shortstop Alan Schoenberger in the sixth.

Afterward, Howard seemed pleased with the way things went.

"The ankle felt good running down to second in the first inning, and running down to first base it felt pretty good accelerating," he said. "A little bit of soreness, a little bit of stiffness, which is to be expected. But other than that it felt pretty good running around."

Howard said he would test the ankle again Saturday at triple-A Lehigh Valley and didn't rule out the possibility that he would be back with the Phillies Sunday, although the plan was for him to return on Monday.

Barring another injury to a Phillies player, Howard's return would give them a healthy lineup for the first time since May 21 and only the sixth time all season.

Howard sprained his ankle when he scrambled back to second base in a game at Washington on Aug. 1. Two days later, the Phillies placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Aug. 2.

"With the swelling and whatnot, there's always going to be a little bit of tenderness," he said. "But it didn't bother me. I feel good. We'll see what happens."

Howard last was on a minor-league rehab assignment with Lakewood on May 23-24, 2007, when he had a strained left quadriceps. He had a home run and four RBIs in the two games. He played for the BlueClaws in 2002 and batted .280 with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs.

The crowd of 10,032, the largest of the season and second-largest in the club's history, gave Howard a rousing ovation during the pregame ceremony near home plate when he was handed a framed jersey with the No. 29 he wore when he played for Lakewood. Howard posed for photos with his mother, Cheryl, and twin brother, Corey. The cheers continued when a green tarpaulin was lifted to display Howard's number on the fence in right-center field.

"It was a pretty good day," Howard said. "Getting my number retired here is definitely a special honor. This is kind of where it all began for me. It's special, and Lakewood will always have a special place in my heart. This was where I got to experience what a real professional baseball season was like."


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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