Almost always one of the first Phillies to arrive in Florida each winter, Howard will be back at his offseason training program, too. Except this year will be slightly different.
Although he has been back on the field for 2 months following a lengthy rehab from last October's surgery to repair a torn left Achilles', Howard is still in the even more lengthy process of working strength back into his left leg. No player is at 100 percent in September, following the grueling nature of the 162-game schedule, but with the effects of Achilles' surgery, Howard's left calf isn't in the neighborhood of 100 percent of its normal strength.
"I'll get with my strength guys, talk with [Phillies' head athletic trainer] Scott [Sheridan] and put together a program to build that strength while obviously still being careful," Howard said. "But I definitely need to get a program in order to rebuild that strength and be able to do a more normal routine - lifting and hitting. Right now, the hitting, running and fielding are all secondary; it's about continuing to build all the muscles back in my foot and calf and in the leg."
It's odd to talk about the offseason with Ryan Howard at the beginning of September. But, then again, it has been an odd season for both the one-time MVP slugger and the Phillies.
In each of Howard's first seven seasons as a regular, everyday player, the Phillies were either chasing a postseason spot or running away with the division in September. It historically has been the time of year when he's at his best: Howard's batting average (.304), OPS (1.060), doubles (50), home runs (63), hits (225), runs (144) and walks (142) are higher in 219 regular-season games in September (and the few games that leak into October) than they are in any other month.
While the Phils were annually chasing down a playoff spot, Howard's bat has propelled them in the season's final month. This September, much like this year, isn't quite the same, although the jovial Howard maintains a positive outlook.
"It's different, it's definitely different," Howard said of a 2012 season where the Phillies have spent the majority of time in last place while he has played in just 51 games. "It's been a learning process for me in a lot of ways. It's about the power of positive thinking, being patient. . . . The way things have gone with team, not just me but with Chase [Utley] and Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] being hurt, it's just one of those years. It's just one of those years.
"But to be where we are, with an outside shot of still trying to make [the playoffs], with all things considered . . . I'm trying to be optimistic when you look at everything this team has been through."
While the final answer probably won't be revealed until next September, as he closes in on a full season at full strength, the early results are also optimistic regarding Howard's recovery from Achilles' surgery.
After 2 months back on the field following a rehab and no formal spring training to get his bat in regular-season shape, Howard is hitting .239 with a .769 OPS; both would stand as career lows.
But his power production, despite not being at full strength, is comparable to each of his last two full seasons.
Howard has 18 extra-base hits in 51 games; he had 64 in 152 games last year and 59 in 143 games in 2010.
Howard has 10 home runs in 210 plate appearances this season, an average of one home run every 21 trips to the plate. He hit 33 homers in 644 plate appearances in 2011, an average of one every 19.5 plate appearance, and 31 home runs in 620 plate appearances in 2010 (one in every 20 times he stepped to the plate).
If he goes on a power binge in the next 2 weeks, Howard has a chance to become the fastest player in baseball history to 300 home runs. Howard has 296 in 1,078 career games; Ralph Kiner hit his 300th home run in his 1,087th game.
Howard's continued power production, though, has been tempered with an increasing propensity to end an at-bat with a whiff. With 73 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances, Howard has struck out 34.8 percent of the time he has stepped to the plate this season, an increase from 2011 (26.7 percent) and 2010 (26.7).
But in many ways, the 2012 season can be treated as a mulligan for Howard as he recovers from a serious injury.
"I know this: He has trouble using his backside hitting," Charlie Manuel said. "Using his legs and the part that makes your bat quick. I'm not making excuses for him . . . [but] it's hard for me to make judgment on the fact that he doesn't use his backside."
Although Manuel said that's a mechanical flaw that pestered Howard before the injury, it's also easy to see how it could be related.
"I think this time next year definitely his ankle and Achilles' are definitely going to be better and stronger," Manuel said. "I think it's hard to really tell. He came back kind of quick and it was a very serious injury. It's his back foot and that's the foot he pushes off hitting. You really never know."
Ten months since surgery and 2 months removed from his return to the lineup, Howard said his Achilles' is a "non-factor." His game-speed and strength have been sapped, but he'll continue to build on that as summer turns to fall and fall gives way to winter.
Howard still expects to be 100 percent for spring training in February, when both he and his teammates will reboot and try to regain the prestige that put both player and team among the best in baseball. The most challenging season of his career is nearly over.
"You play the hand you're dealt," Howard said.
Contact Ryan Lawrence at email@example.com