Howard: I'm not distracted

Well, we finally heard from Ryan Howard himself. As expected, he didn't shed much light on his contract negotiations and impending arbitration hearing.

First, here is the sequence of events as it occurred over the past 48 hours here at Bright House Networks Field.

1) On Wednesday evening, the Phillies announced that all-star slugger Ryan Howard would meet the media today after his workout.

2) Howard reported to spring training Thursday morning.

3) Various media outlets reported the availability. On Thursday evening, Comcast Sports Net announced it would be broadcasting the "press conference" live at 1 p.m.

4) On Friday morning, midway through the team's workout, the Phillies informed media that Howard, in fact, would not be available.

5) Early Friday afternoon, Howard eventually did talk to reporters, but declined to discuss specifics of his looming arbitration hearing.

What Howard had to say wasn't nearly as interesting as the build-up.

The one thing that is clear is that the all-star isn't going to let his contract talks disrupt his preparation for the 2007 season.

"I’m focused here," said Howard, who has averaged 52.5 home runs and 142.5 RBI the past two seasons. "I’m focused on trying to come out here and get better and get ready for the season. All the other stuff, all the outside stuff, that’s just that. It’s outside. But I’m here I’m working and I’m trying to be the best I can for the team."

Howard was at ease in front of a throng of media, joking with reporters who attempted to pry into his contract talks. The Phillies have offered him $7 million, but Howard and his agent, Casey Close, have requested $10 million. If the two sides can't work out a deal, they'll head to an arbitration hearing on Feb. 20 in St. Petersburg, where an independent judge will decide whose offer is most fair.

Howard has spent the last month working out at Saddlebrook, and exclusive golf and tennis resort in Wesley Chapel, FL, approximately 30 minutes north of Tampa. Listed last season at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds, the first baseman said he has lost 10 to 15 pounds in the offseason.

Last season, Howard admitted that his frequent appearances in the wake of his 2006 MVP award affected his weight and his preparation for last season.

"I'm definitely feeling a lot better than I was last spring," Howard said. "I was working a lot harder, didn't have to go on the banquet circuit, so I was able to kind of get back to my routine and stick with it a little more."

Read more in tomorrow's daily news. . .


. . .Newly signed pitcher Kris Benson is expected to report to camp tomorrow, but likely won't throw off the mound until at least Sunday. Manager Charlie Manuel said he definitely will not throw tomorrow.