Ryan Howard saddled into the chair in front of the “Phillies Spring Training 2014” backdrop in the dining room at Bright House Field on Saturday and let out an exaggerated sigh.
Then he uttered something about it being the “same old thing,” with the same questions.
But Ryan Howard, who has missed a large chunk of each of the last two years with injuries to his left leg, is smart enough to understand why he’s back in the same chair, back answering the same questions.
Howard is in the third year of a massive, five-year, $125 million contract. His production was dropped significantly and his durability is clearly a concern.
But Howard said his leg - which has undergone two surgeries since Oct. 2011 - is finally healthy and strong.
Here are highlights from his press conference in Clearwater this afternoon:
Q: You said same old, same old - then how do you think it’ll be different this year?
Howard: I mean it’s just a case of staying on the field. My leg feels a lot better, obviously going through spring training, obviously I was out there for the first 12 games or whatever, I haven’t talked to Ryno about what the approach is going to be this year yet, but i think it’s going to be to try to take care of things, watch what we’re doing, get my work in, and not necessarily overdo it. Try to stay in front of everything as much as possible and do what i can.
Q: But why do you feel like you can play 120, 130, 140 games this year?
Howard: I feel like I can play 162 games. My whole offseason was dedicated to trying to play all 162 games plus trying to make it to the playoffs. My goal isn’t to come out here and try to play 120 games. That’s not why I play baseball. I come out to try to play 162 games and hopefully we make it into the playoffs and I’m playing however many more games it takes to try to win a World Series. The offseason was built around that, getting healthy enough to try to play 162, 180-plus games.
Q: How was this offseason different in preparing?
Howard: I’ve got two legs. Basically I’ve been playing on one leg. I’m not one to make excuses, I try to go out there and go as hard as I can, even if it’s one leg or one toe. I’m going to go out there and give it all I got. But now that i have two legs, I’m feeling better and I’m able to hop around on the field, my swing is coming back to where I want it to be. That's kind of my mantra. Getting two legs has allowed me to get stable in the batter’s box, where I want to be. I can work on my approach and go from there.
Q: How hindered were you by knee in generating power?
Howard: It was tough, trying to fire off the backside, trying to get set up and trying to get in a setup where my leg wouldn’t hurt, to be able to get in there and try to drive and push as much as I could. It did play a factor. But when I go out there I’m not trying to make excuses as far as that’s concerned.
Q: Was last year rock bottom for this franchise?
Howard: I can’t say rock bottom for the franchise, but for us, the guys on this team, yeah, we know we’re better than that. We know we’re capable of a lot more. We more expectations of ourselves this year for going out there and putting a better show on the field. … for the guys that were here last year and the guys that have been here, yeah, you can say that was rock bottom.
Q: Will your weight loss going to help you physically?
Howard: Definitely - it will play a factor. By losing weight, taking some of that pounding off the legs, maybe a little sneak attack, sneak in a stolen base or two. my job - i wan tot be as efficient on the base paths and every aspect that I can. and if it’s getting on base and scoring from first base on a double, anything that can help our team win and get runs. Losing the weight is always a good thing from the pounding stand point.
Q: What was you check-in weight compared to last year?
Howard: Last year, I don’t even remember. I’ll let that go. Right now, I’m between 240-250.
Q: Your struggles against lefties have been well documented. How are you going to get better?
Howard: I think with now being able to have two hands, being able to be more stable in the box I’ll be able to stay back a little longer, kind of see balls. I think I was trying to go out and make things happen. Obviously spring training last year, I think half the home runs I hit were off lefties so I pretty much answered that question. So when my legs are going good and everything is going well, I can hit lefties. it’s just a meter of being able to stay in the box, be stable and let the ball travel. [Note: Howard said later pain in left knee began at end of spring training last year]
Q: The perception is this run is over for this core - you, Chase, Jimmy, Chooch. Fair?
Howard: It’s what happens. When one thing doesn’t go right, all of a sudden it’s done, it’s over. when things don’t go the way they used to go, it’s done, it’s over. I was watching the Winter Olympics here and Shaun White didn’t win the half pipe. Shaun White is done. The man had a bad run. That doesn’t mean he’s done. We’ve had a bad couple of years, injuries, all that stuff. But I don’t think its over. People are entitled to their opinions and what not, that's fine. It’s up to us to go out there and show them otherwise, go play our game and do what we do.
Q: What do you think you’re still capable of doing?
Howard: Everything. What do you think I’m capable of doing? Are you asking me if I can hit 40-plus home runs? Absolutely.
Q: I was going for 58 (home runs).
Howard: Absolutely. I did it once. Why not? You can’t doubt yourself. If I doubt myself, no one else will believe. I’m more than capable of hitting 58 home runs. I believe it every year. It’s just a matter of going out there and letting the game come to me, do what i do, and 58, whatever. I remember after hitting that people were like, ‘hit 70.’ You never know what might happen.