Phillies Notes: Howard's lack of speed could put Phillies in a bind

Humberto Quintero heads for first after a rare hit by a Phillies catcher. Carlos Ruiz can return April 28.
Humberto Quintero heads for first after a rare hit by a Phillies catcher. Carlos Ruiz can return April 28. (AP)
Posted: April 18, 2013

CINCINNATI - When Ryan Howard runs, it looks unpleasant. The hulking Phillies first baseman - never known for his speed - is 18 months removed from major Achilles tendon surgery.

At the end of spring training, a scout observed that it "looks like he's running on pieces of glass." Manager Charlie Manuel pinch-ran for Howard twice in the season's first 13 games. It's something he may consider more often, although not by choice.

"It might be," Manuel said. "I hope I don't have to pinch-run for him much. I hope those situations don't come up much."

Howard insists there is no pain. This simply could be Howard's reality at 33. He has three years and $85 million remaining on his contract after 2013.

Last season, Manuel pinch-ran for Howard six times in 71 games. The manager did it four times - all in September - over 152 games in 2011. In 2010, Howard was removed for a pinch-runner just once.

"I'm not saying he's slower," Manuel said. "Right now, it's not like he's much faster than he used to be. We have a different kind of team than we used to have. He was a guy you felt you could leave in there and he could score. Right now, where he's running from, it is hard for him to score from second base or even third."

The dilemma, of course, is over sacrificing Howard's bat for speed late in games. That is a situation Manuel wishes to avoid. He pinch-ran John Mayberry Jr. for Howard in the eighth inning of a tie game Saturday. The game stayed tied and Manuel was forced to use novice first baseman Kevin Frandsen, who blew a critical play.

Howard's lack of mobility has not affected his fielding, Manuel said. "It's about the same," he said.

Both Manuel and Howard believe more action will smooth his gait. That was the strategy behind pushing Howard early in spring training.

"I think it can improve some," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of him playing. You can tell sometimes he has trouble with his feet. He's had trouble before. On different days, his feet hurt him more than others. . . . He runs better at times."

Manuel made his feelings known in one sentence. "I don't ever like taking him out of the game," he said. His hand could be forced, though.

Waiting for Chooch

On Monday, Erik Kratz hit into a double play. And he failed to block a Cliff Lee curveball, allowing a runner to score. He is 0 for his last 10. Through Monday, Kratz was hitting .169 (15 for 89) with just six extra-base hits since September.

The countdown to Carlos Ruiz's return started long ago. Ruiz, suspended 25 games for the use of Adderall, is eligible to return April 28. That means 11 more games without the regular catcher.

Humberto Quintero started Tuesday. It has not mattered who is behind the plate; there has been little offense.

Last season, Phillies catchers led the majors with an .861 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Kratz has an option remaining and could be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. Quintero cannot.

"When people start coming back, we're going to have to make some changes on our roster," Manuel said.

 

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