We'll begin with these caveats: We are not doctors. We have not reviewed Ryan Howard's medical charts. We have not spoken with the doctor who performed surgery for a torn Achilles because Mark Myerson denied comment.
So here is what we have to go on:
1. The Phillies have established a timetable of five to six months for Howard's recovery "until he can play at his accustomed level." Even then, Ruben Amaro Jr. is leaving the door open for something longer because, as he said, "A lot depends on how he recovers."
2. History shows that five to six months is optimistic for a recovery from an injury like this.
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Again, Howard's injury could be less severe than others. Medicine may have improved significantly since some of these older injuries. Myerson is the leading foot and ankle specialist in the country. Howard has taken good care of his body in recent years.
For context, we did some extensive research of old newspaper clippings from the previous decade or so. There are few examples of baseball players — at least at the major-league level — suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon like Howard did. For the ones we found, we compared dates reported with game logs to ascertain when the injuries and returns occurred.
Here is what we found:
Ruptured Achilles on Aug. 9, 2008
Returned April 10, 2009
Ruptured Achilles March 24, 2008
Returned for one game on Sept. 28, 2008
Ruptured Achilles on Sept. 14, 2005
Returned to majors on June 17, 2006 after seven rehab games
Ruptured Achilles on May 9, 2004
Missed rest of 2004 season
Underwent surgery for ruptured Achilles on March 18, 1999
Missed entire 1999 season
Ruptured Achilles second game of 2003 season
Missed rest of 2003 season
Ruptured Achilles in early February 2004
Never pitched again
Ruptured Achilles on Oct. 1, 2002
Played in minor league rehab games by end of June 2003 and then disappeared for personal reasons
The ideal scenario would be something like Frandsen, who missed almost six months on the dot. But he returned only for one at-bat in the final game of the season and reporters in San Francisco termed it a "quicker-than-expected recovery."
Every story about Contreras' eight-month recovery from the injury suggests it was nothing short of a surprise. On March 16, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "The usual recovery time for such a devastating injury is a year, and some in the organization feared it might be a career-ender for Contreras, 37."
Even then, Contreras had an 8.19 ERA after his first six starts and was sent to triple A in May. He came back in June and posted a 3.97 ERA for the remainder of the season.
This isn't to say Howard cannot make a similar quick recovery, something for which the Phillies have initially budgeted. Amaro said Howard's injury will not affect his offseason plans. But if John Mayberry Jr. is the favorite for left field and he must substitute at first base for a few months, that could create a hole.
Either way, there is reason for skepticism on the original Howard timeline. The Phillies hope he can return sometime in April — hey, maybe even opening day. But that could merely be optimism.
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