Boot camp: Howard returns to complex

might not be back before the all-star break. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
might not be back before the all-star break. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer (Slugger Ryan Howard)

The slugger's rehab from an Achilles tear has been on hold following secondary surgery for an infection.

Posted: March 15, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Shortly before 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ryan Howard hobbled to the warning track of Ashburn Field at the Carpenter Complex. Wearing a large walking boot that comes halfway up his left knee, Howard threw a baseball to Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.

He was back on the field.

For 18 days, Howard was a mystery. "I guess it was like a 'Where's Waldo?' type deal," he said. He watched Grapefruit League games on TV in Florida. He popped into the clubhouse occasionally to say hello.

But the recovery from a torn Achilles tendon and subsequent infection that required a second surgical procedure was completely halted. The Phillies had initially established a best-case scenario of May for Howard's return. Now, any time Howard spends on the field before the all-star break will be considered a bonus.

Charlie Manuel said the doctors do not have a timetable for Howard's return, and they will not have a clearer picture until Howard is back into his routine from before the infection.

"You can look and project all you want to," Manuel said, "but where he's going to be at in about a week or 10 days after he starts practicing, we'll get a better read on him. I feel like the quicker we can get him on the field and into a game, it'll give us a better idea. But it's going to be a while."

For what it's worth, Howard declined to affix any date to his recovery. He does not even know how much longer the boot will remain. The new wound created to clean the old one is still healing.

"I'm trying to do what I can," Howard said, "so when I'm actually out of the boot I can hit the ground running."

In his absence this spring, Ty Wigginton has filled in for Howard most often at first base. John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix have also spent time there.

The Phillies and Howard have maintained optimism in the fact the Achilles tendon remains intact. The infection slowed things, specifically because the skin behind the tendon is notoriously difficult to heal, Sheridan said. But it wasn't the catastrophic scenario.

Because of that, Howard does not believe he must start from scratch once the boot comes up.

"I doubt it. I really doubt it," Howard said. "From where I had to start before, I had a bum Achilles. We had to strengthen that up. But my Achilles each day, even though I'm not doing some of the stuff I was doing before, is still getting stronger just through rest.

"My goal and hope is once I get out of the boot we can hit the ground running and pick up where we left off."

But Manuel said it's his understanding that Howard will not immediately be allowed to do the same work from before.

"I don't think so," Manuel said. "Not at first. It's going to take him a while. He'll have to build it back up."

The issue is not so much when Howard will be back, but who Howard is when he returns. Kevin Frandsen, an infielder in Phillies camp who ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2008, warned there would be setbacks and frustration during what is a complicated rehab process. He also said Howard would not feel like himself for a full year and a half.

"I've just tried to stay positive through the entire thing," Howard said. "These kinds of things happen. The only thing you can do is stay positive."

Howard will continue to do modified exercises like riding a stationary bike and range-of-motion movements with his leg. The boot limits everything, but he was cleared to begin a conditioning program.

Still, Howard has missed a considerable chunk of recovery time. The procedure to clean the wound was performed Feb. 27. And until the boot comes off, baseball activities will be limited to simple tasks like playing catch.

"It's exhilarating," a sarcastic Howard said. "I even got to field a ball from batting practice that came at me. I still got it."

At least it's better than watching Grapefruit League games on TV.

Contact Matt Gelb


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