March 17, 2016
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Despite the former MVP’s struggles in the last half decade, Ryan Howard was going to face left-handed pitchers this spring, according to Pete Mackanin.
The manager appeared to be leaning toward at least platooning the left-handed hitting Howard and right-handed hitting Darin Ruf heading into the 2016 regular season, but said he would also allow Howard to prove himself in Grapefruit League games. Howard has had more than a couple opportunities this week, and against a trio of former All-Stars: Aroldis Chapman and CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees and Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Howard, who hit .130 with a .418 OPS in 100 at-bats against left-handers last season, had more success than failures in those matchups.
He sandwiched an RBI double off Sabathia (on Sunday) and a home run and double off Moore (on Thursday) in between a five-pitch strikeout against Chapman.
Howard is 3-for-6 with two doubles, a home run, one strikeout and no walks against lefties this spring. The home run on Thursday was Howard’s first in eight games this spring, off a lefthander or a righthander.
“He swung the bat well,” Mackanin said. “It’s good to see. I think he’s rising to the challenge. We’ll continue to get a look at that for the rest of the spring.”
Howard has hit .184 against lefties with 22 home runs and 194 strikeouts since the beginning of the 2012 season, striking out in 44 percent of his at-bats against them. But he entered camp with something to prove and still felt that way before his 2-for-2 performance off Moore on Thursday.
"I know what I need to do in order for that not to be a situation," Howard said of a possible platoon. "I have to do what I've been working on, trust what I've been working on and hopefully force them to find ways to get me and Ruf in the same lineup against lefties."
Jerad Eickhoff’s next start will come in a Grapefruit League game. The 25-year-old right-hander pitched in a minor league game for the second time in five days and said afterward that all systems were a go to rejoin the rotation with just over two weeks remaining until Opening Day.
“I felt good,” Eickhoff said after giving up one run on three hits in four innings of an intrasquad game at the Carpenter Complex. “I'm just happy to be walking over here in one piece this time.”
Eickhoff was behind camp when pitchers began official workouts last month after fracturing a small bone in his right thumb in the cage taking bunting practice. He was progressing fine until a blister showed up on his right foot in the last week.
“It's standard maintenance, day-to-day kind of thing,” Eickhoff said. “If I stay on top of it shouldn't be any type of problem.”
Eickhoff is on tap to start on Tuesday in Clearwater against the Minnesota Twins. If he remains on schedule, he could have three exhibition starts between then and the start of the regular season.
He believes that’s plenty of time to rack up his pitch count and take the ball when his turn comes during the first week of April.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Eickhoff, who threw 58 pitches on Thursday. “As of right now I feel good, just trying to keep trying to execute pitches, get that feel back every time I get on the mound and get better and better.”
• Cody Asche (right oblique) played left field for four innings in a minor league game on Thursday, but still has not progressed toward taking live swings off regular batting practice. He could do that in the coming days, but remains likely to begin the season on the disabled list. Asche has yet to play in a Grapefruit League game this spring.
• David Hernandez (triceps tendinitis) is scheduled to pitch in his first Grapefruit League game on Saturday. Hernandez returned to the mound in a game for the first time since March 1 in a minor league appearance on Tuesday.
• The Phillies announced a crowd of 11,222 on Thursday – the largest in the 13-year history of Bright House Field. The holiday (St. Patrick’s Day) and the presence of the hometown team (Tampa Bay Rays) was a perfect storm to set a record.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21