Phillies' Howard removes boot, takes grounders in chair

Posted: March 22, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Two weeks ago, Sam Perlozzo was raving about his next big idea. He'd call it "Sam's Stool" and market it to baseball teams at every level.

The blue step stool he used to keep Chase Utley active in the field last spring was so helpful that the first thing Perlozzo, the Phillies' first-base coach, did upon arriving in Florida was to make sure no one had stolen it.

Now, "Sam's Stool" will require modifications. Ideally it could fold. Maybe it will have wheels, or perhaps a bucket seat to make its user more comfortable.

"Yeah, but it needs a better name," Ryan Howard told Perlozzo.

They laughed, but the blue stool allowed Howard, now bootless, to resume playing baseball. In this morose Phillies spring training, Thursday resembled something of a bright spot. Howard sat on a stool and took ground balls from Perlozzo's fungo for about 10 minutes. He will work again Friday, the day after that, and the next day.

There remains no timetable for his return, and Howard is quite content to leave it that way.

"I'm trying to make little miniature goals," Howard said. "The first goal is to get out of the boot. Goal achieved."

The wound is not completely healed, Howard said, and he is still taking antibiotics for the infection. But Howard's physician, Mark Myerson, of Baltimore, saw enough progress to allow Howard to wear two sneakers again.

He did exercises to strengthen his legs, some of which he was already doing with the boot, but which now can be expanded. He believes he is not far from playing shape, although he's noticeably gained weight while sidelined.

The procedure to clean the surgical wound where the torn Achilles tendon was repaired was performed 24 days ago, and Howard spent almost all of that time in the walking boot. But Howard questioned how much it harmed him.

"I mean, I don't think it really set me back," Howard said. "Because I think the biggest concern was my tendon, and the tendon was never an issue. The tendon was repaired in October. So even with me not doing what I was doing before from a rehab standpoint, the tendon is still getting stronger, a little bit every day."

Charlie Manuel disagreed. "That definitely set him back some," the manager said. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to answer questions regarding injured players. In the winter Amaro set a timetable of May for Howard's return. There are those in the organization who still view that as a possibility, but it's extremely unlikely.

The overarching concern is Howard's condition upon his return. Kevin Frandsen, a minor-league infielder for the Phillies, tore his Achilles tendon and said it took at least a full year to feel completely healthy and strong again.

"I'm sure guys say it takes a full year, but that's to get 100 percent of their strength back," Howard said. "If I'm capable of going out there and playing, I'm going to go out there and do the best that I can."

Is Howard capable of being a productive player while not at full strength?

"We'll see," Howard said. "We'll see."

Asked if he has a return date in his head that he's not willing to share, he said, "Not really." Howard had hinted that he was moving too fast in his progressions before the infection.

"It slowed me down," Howard said. "Basically with my workouts and stuff like that, sometimes I feel like maybe I would start too early. It just kind of taught me to slow down, listen to your body, take care of your body, and just relax a little bit until this bad boy gets better."

At the base of Howard's locker Thursday were three pairs of shoes, two pairs of sandals, and that boot. Howard slipped on some red sneakers and walked freely around the clubhouse.

For now, the boot serves as a reminder of progress.

"I'm going to keep it for a while," Howard said. "Maybe burn it."

Contact Matt Gelb


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