ABOVE PHOTO: Chase Utley.
By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
and the Chris Murray Report
With all the fanfare associated with return of second baseman Chase Utley’s return to the Phillies lineup on Wednesday, slugger Ryan Howard’s eventual return to the team is equally anticipated as well.
On Thursday, Howard began a rehabilitation assignment at Single-A Lakewood (N.J.) to test his now healing left Achilles Tendon that he injured while running to first base during the final game of National League Division Series. He will probably be back with the team after the All-Star break.
Coming into Friday’s game, the Phillies are currently in fourth place in the National Leagues East and nine games out of first-place. Last season, Howard hit 33 homeruns and had 116 runs batted in and batted .298 with runners in scoring position. His ability to hit the long ball and drive in runs are a huge reason the Phillies have been in or near the basement of the National League East. Howard’s return to the team to give the offense to alter the course of a game at any time.
Howard told the Philadelphia media on Wednesday that his Achilles is healed, but even when he comes back he’s not going to completely 100 percent overall especialy in the area of running the bases.
“Swing-wise I don’t feel any difference, so that to me is a non-factor,” Howard said. “I’m able to get up on the balls of my feet to swing and follow through. I still have a ways to go before it’s truly 100 percent, but I (Wednesday) I ran a little bit and I felt pretty good. Honestly, it won’t be until next year to when I’m 100 percent, but if it’s 80 or 85 percent, I’ll give you 100 percent of 85 percent.”
Throughout his initial rehab in Clearwater, Howard said he’s had no problems and felt no pain in his legs when he takes his big home run swing at the ball.
“My swing has been normal, I haven’t toned anything back, I haven’t held anything back from my swing,” Howard said. “I’ve been able to get my legs into swing. During the simulated games and in the games in Clear,water, I was able to really focus on my swing.”
But the hard part about the injury for Howard was not being able to get into his off-season routine and work out.. He said it was an awakening because it helped to rethink the things he needs to to keep himself in shape.
“Once it happened, I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I was basically sitting on the couch and having to keep my foot up. It really allowed me to have time to think and refocus on a lot of things, mentally and physically and figure out what do I need to take care of body. It taught me about being patient.”
Howard said that it was frustrating at times to have to go throught the progression of healing his Achilles because he wanted to be with the team, but he had to allow his body to tell him how to proceed in healing himself.
“It was frustrating, but I had to keep a positive outlook and I had to listen to my body,” Howard said. “Even through the infection, I know that body was going to let me know when it was going to be ready.”
Though Howard has had his share of injuries over the years, the hard part about having this Achilles injury is that it occurred at the end of the season. Howard has had ankle and heel injuries during the last seasons that he’s recovered from because it was during the season when he was already in shape.