CINCINNATI — When Ryan Howard runs, it looks unpleasant. The hulking first baseman — never known for his speed — is 18 months removed from major Achilles surgery. He has not moved the same since.
At the end of spring training, a scout observed it "looks like he's running on pieces of glass." Charlie Manuel pinch-ran for Howard twice in the season's first 13 games. It is something the manager may consider more often, although not by choice.
"It might be," Manuel said. "I hope I don't have to pinch-run for him much. I hope those situations don't come up much. Sometimes, when you're trying to win the game, the chances of scoring a guy become much better."
Howard insists there is no pain, and the Phillies say he does not appear on the medical reports. This, simply, could be Howard's reality at age 33. There are three years and $85 million remaining on his contract after 2013.
Should Jimmy Rollins replace Ben Revere as leadoff hitter?
|| 1206 (50.5%)
|| 1184 (49.5%)
Total votes = 2390
Last season, Manuel pinch-ran for Howard six times in 71 games as he regained strength in the repaired tendon. The manager did it four times — all in September — over 152 games in 2011. In 2010, Howard was removed for a pinch-runner once in 143 games.
"I'm not saying he's slower," Manuel said. "Right now, it's not like he's much faster than he used to be. We have a different kind of team than we used to have. He was a guy you felt you could leave in there and he could score. Right now, where he's running from, it is hard for him to score from second base or even third, depending where someone hits the ball."
The dilemma, of course, is sacrificing Howard's bat for speed late in games. That is a situation Manuel wishes to avoid. He pinch-ran John Mayberry Jr. for Howard in the eighth inning of a tied game last Saturday. The game stayed tied and Manuel was forced to use novice first baseman Kevin Frandsen, who failed to make a critical play.
Howard's lack of mobility has not affected his fielding, Manuel said. "It's about the same," he said.
Both Manuel and Howard believe more action will smooth his gait. That was the strategy behind pushing Howard early in spring training.
"I think it can improve some," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of him playing. You can tell sometimes he has trouble with his feet. He's had trouble before. On different days, his feet hurt him more than others. ... He runs better at times."
Manuel made his feelings known in one sentence. "I don't ever like taking him out of the game," he said. His hand could be forced, though.
Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.