After Jonathan Papelbon blew a save that gave the Phillies a 6-5 loss to the Mets last night at Citi Field, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decided it was the best time to call Ryan Howard up for tonight’s game against the Braves.
This is a classic reactionary move, especially when Amaro mentioned on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia’s Daily News Live that Howard would not be rushed before last night’s game. This is about the team creating a diversion from what was a brutal loss.
This strategy did not work. Fans were not in the mood to be excited about Howard’s return after what took place in the ninth inning last night, which the Phillies were an out away from taking the series with the Mets. They are also smart enough to know their star won’t make a difference to overcome the problems the team has had all year.
Howard’s return improves the clubhouse morale only. The Phillies have become content with losing, and most of the players expect to lose when they are out on the field. They needed a leader that the players could rally around, and that’s what the Phillies first baseman will do.
Still, it would have made more sense to have him up when the Phillies started their post-All-Star break next Friday at Denver. What was the rush to have him up for a weekend series against the Braves? What difference would it have made when the team still stinks?
With Kyle Kendrick pitching tonight, Howard may not be the difference maker to overcome the starter’s woes, especially if the Phillies are down 5-1 early in the game. Last night’s loss was too much to bear for the Phillies to think logically.
Here’s a question the Phillies must get an answer from Howard: Can he be productive? Can he run well? Is his body good enough where he can still have his home run swing? Is he really ready to play?
The three-time All-Star hit well in his stint at Leigh Valley. Still, he had trouble running. That’s the problem. If he is having a rough time running, there is no point calling him up. He has to be 100 percent. What’s the rush? The Phillies are not going to be a playoff team this season despite what they think.
The team cited they can make a run if they can get Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Howard back together in the second half. That’s all well and good, but that is not going to be enough. They have no pitching, and that’s why they are in last place with no hopes in sight.
Prior to Wednesday’s ballgame, the Phillies haven’t won a game since Utley was activated from the disabled list. This shows he can’t do it alone, and that’s why no one should assume Howard’s presence would get the team back on track.
Teams with good hitting and no pitching do not mean many victories. The Phillies know that, so it’s interesting they are insulting the intelligence of the fans by saying they would go on a run when their two superstars come back and play well.
The Phillies have to address their pitching first and foremost before they can go on a legitimate run. That means there has to be quality starts by the starters, and the bullpen has to give the team shutdown innings for them to get a win. Only good pitching gives them a chance to win a ballgame, especially if hitters get shut down by the opposing pitcher as the Phillies experienced in the postseason in recent years.
For all the high hopes they have on Howard, it will be interesting how he does in July. He has to get so many at-bats before he can be effective as a hitter. It’s not going to be that easy for him after missing so many months. Utley is still finding a way to get into a groove after coming back.
There is going to be much pressure on Howard to get it going fast. The Phillies are running out of time to make a run for the playoffs. If they finish July as they finished June with a 9-19 record, there is going to be a fire sale.
It’s unfair for Howard to carry the load. Yes, he is the team’s star, but he is coming back from an Achilles’ tendon injury. To expect him to be a star right away is too much to ask.
Howard’s presence will get everyone to forget the team’s woes for a few hours, but it won’t cure the problems the Phillies have.