Slimmed-down Howard ready to go

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard watches the flight of a ball as he takes batting practice at Bright House Field Friday morning in Clearwater. (Eric Mencher / Staff Photographer)

When Ryan Howard hopped on the scale prior to his arrival at spring training, he must have taken his wallet out of his shorts before doing so.

The Phillies first baseman, who met the media today for the first time since signing a 3-year, $54 million contract Sunday, says he has dropped 20 pounds from his playing weight at the end of last season. The noticeably skinnier slugger, who now checks in between 250 and 255 pounds, said he entered the offseason determined to drop weight in order to feel better on the field.

“I basically just wanted to come and get right,” said Howard, who said he weighed around 265 pounds at the start of last spring training. “Not so much a target, but drop 10 pounds or so and see how I felt. And drop another 10 and see how I felt to get to a playing weight and feel good, feel light, feel fast, strong, and go from there.”

Howard said the resolution to his contract situation should only help matters. While last year’s arbitration hearing, when he was awarded a record $10 million, probably isn’t to blame for a slow start that saw him hitting well under .250 for most of the season, he said he is relieved not to go through the process again. For much of the offseason it appeared as if he might have to.

The Phillies didn’t become confident in their ability to work out a multi-year deal until after the two sides exchanged arbitration figures in late January. Extension talks broke down last season. This year, the Phillies risked owing Howard $18 million in arbitration (they had offered him $14 million). While the 3-year deal the two sides ultimately worked out — Howard will earn $15 million this season, $19 million in 2010 and $20 million in 2011, in addition to various incentives — still leaves him as a free agent after the 2011 season, the two sides won’t have to worry about contract talks for at least another 2 years.

“You don’t have to come in and worry about having to answer different questions about contract talks,” he said. “You can come in now and focus on playing, getting ready to play for the season.”

Look for more from Howard in tomorrow's Daily News.