Mailbag: Howard, Oswalt, Brown and numerology

When will Ryan Howard return to the Phillies lineup in 2012? (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

We're dusting off some of the cobwebs in here and opening up the mailbag for your questions. If you want a question asked in a future mailbag (and I promise to make this a semi-regular event in the future), fill out this entry form. Or you can ask me a question on Twitter (@magelb) and I will use it in this space.

To the questions...

Is Ryan Howard really going to play in April?
Adam from Quakertown

All signs point to, "No." And why should he? The Phillies need a healthy and productive Howard in October, not April. This team has shown a willingness to be conservative with injury timetables and Howard's recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon will be no different.

Yes, there are some within the walls of Citizens Bank Park who will not rule out an April return because that would be a disservice to their Big Piece. But in reality, they will be thrilled if he can return at full strength sometime in May from a difficult rehabilitation process.

The updates on Howard during spring training will come with those caveats. Remember, despite Chase Utley's persistence, the Phillies still had him spend more than two weeks playing minor-league baseball last season. They will take every precaution with Howard, as they owe him an average of $25 million per season for the next five years.

Any idea why the Phils aren't interested in Oswalt at what I assume is a lowered price?
@angryelvis on Twitter

That Roy Oswalt remains unsigned on Jan. 25 qualifies as the least surprising development of the winter for me. His agent was trying to sell people on a three-year deal in November, lied about a proposed meeting with the Yankees in New York, and probably misrepresented Oswalt's desire to play for that long.

Most likely, some teams interested in Oswalt have asked Phillies people for their opinion on the righthander who made $16 million in 2011. The Phillies won't say such a thing publicly, but there are serious concerns about Oswalt's back holding up for an entire season, let alone three more. Now the asking price is reportedly down to one year and there still are no obvious suitors. Plus, Edwin Jackson is still out there and he's six years younger than Oswalt.

The fact is, Oswalt probably only wants to pitch for a select group of teams. (Hint, hint: St. Louis.) People have said there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract. But it would take a lot of faith for a team to invest money in Oswalt, who mentally and physically wasn't always there in 2011. 

How is Dom Brown progressing this winter? Does he have a particular training agenda he is following?
Don from Bethlehem

Brown has spent the majority of his winter in Clearwater, Fla., at the Phillies' complex. He's been doing some work with Andy Abad, who is the team's new minor-league outfield/base running coordinator. Most of the focus this winter has been on changing positions, from right to left field. 

Privately, some Phillies evaluators wondered about Brown's approach at the plate in 2011, but that was secondary to his defensive issues. And while most people are quick to write off Brown because he hit .245 in 184 at-bats, he walked 25 times against 35 strikeouts and managed 16 extra-base hits (35.6% of his hits) less than six months removed from a fractured hamate bone in his hand.

In other words, it's hard to discount six seasons of a .834 OPS in the minors for a player who just turned 24. The thing to watch in spring training will be how he handles left field. 

Did Antonio Bastardo change his number after the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon?
Michelle from Ardmore

We're not sure of the financial terms, but here's guessing that Cinco Ocho (Papelbon) compensated Bastardo for his old No. 58 because it means a lot to the new Phillies closer. So Bastardo will wear No. 37 in 2012 (last used briefly by Justin De Fratus in September). Just makes all of those old Bastardo shirseys more hardcore.

Some other numerology developments: Jim Thome, of course, will don his customary No. 25. Ty Wigginton grabbed No. 24. Laynce Nix took No. 7 in a clear homage to Ross Gload. Michael Schwimer changed to No. 44 and how soon we forget about Four Aces. Phillippe Aumont now has No. 43 and J.A. Happ fans everywhere shed a single tear.

Of the non-roster players in spring training, there are quite a few issued low numbers. Pete Orr keeps No. 4. Hector Luna has No. 10, Lou Montanez has No. 16, Scott Podsednik has his No. 22 and Kevin Frandsen has No. 28.

Pitchers David Purcey (39), Brian Sanches (48), Raul Valdes (46) and Dave Bush (47) all have normal numbers. Joel Pineiro is the first to be issued No. 50 since Jamie Moyer wore it for five years.

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