Howard firmly believes he should play every day

Phillies first baseman befuddled by criticism that he can't hit lefties

Howard firmly believes he should play every day

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard made the points he wanted to make Tuesday at Bright House Field.

He said the past is in the past. But, frankly, he feels disrespected that arguably the greatest first baseman in franchise history -- a National League MVP and World Series champion -- has been criticized so harshly recently. Suggestions he no longer can hit left-handed pitching befuddle him, and he believes his career successes have earned him the right to be more than a platoon player on a rebuilding team.

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"The track record speaks for itself," Howard said. "It doesn't matter righty or lefty, I know I can get the job done. I know all the talk over the past few years, this and that, I'm not going to focus on that. For me, it's taking advantage of the opportunities when I get to go out there and play.

"Do I think it's fair? Me, personally, probably not. But it is what it is. The situation is the situation. You just go out there and play."

This almost certainly is Howard's final season with the Phillies. He will make $25 million, plus he is expected to receive a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. The Phillies have tried to trade him, but have had no takers, even after they've offered to pay most of his salary.

"Am I surprised that I'm still on this roster? Um, I don't know, to be honest with you," Howard said. "You know, I'm still here. I've got a contractual obligation through this year and you just see what happens. I mean, I don't sit at home waiting for the call, 'Hey, Ry. You're traded.' I've got to focus on getting ready for the season.

"And do I want to be here? Yeah, I want to be here. Why wouldn't I?"

Well, maybe because former teammates and friends like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, etc., are elsewhere and he understands he is not part of the Phillies' future. Howard also said criticism about his play has been unfair.

"The way I felt with everything that I've done here in Philadelphia, I just felt I was being portrayed as something worse," Howard said. "I felt like I was being portrayed as the bad guy. When you all know me, you know how I'm always joking and stuff. I didn't have a problem at all with my teammates. That's why I didn't talk to you all last year. It was more of a personal thing for me. But it's like, this year … last year is in the past, man."

But this year he will have to prove he can hit lefties to play.

"Check the numbers, check the track record, all that good stuff," he said. "I know I can hit lefties. There's been talk in the media and all this kind of stuff over the past three years and this and that or whatever about not hitting lefties and whatever. It's about just going out there and doing it."

Mackanin on Howard's role

A look at the numbers:

• Howard hit .130 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances last season against left-handers. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in baseball by 47 points.

• Howard hit .230 with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .770 OPS in 189 plate appearances against lefties in 2014. He led the National League in homers and RBIs as a left-handed hitter against lefties.

• Howard had a .771 OPS against lefties from 2005-10, which ranked 22nd out of 61 qualified left-handed hitters. He has a .619 OPS against lefties from 2011-15, which is 54th out of 63 left-handed hitters and 201st out of 212 hitters overall.

"I think people forget that," he said about his 2014 numbers. "Last year? There's nothing you can do about it. Last year is last year. This is a fresh year. Just as last year was bad, this year I can go out and hit .300 against lefties. Then what do you say? If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year. Then what?"

Howard has more on his plate than just hitting lefties. He has a lawsuit against Al Jazeera Network. It is his second lawsuit in as many offseasons.

He settled one with his family in October 2014. His brother had sued him for $2.8 million. His father had requested a $10 million separation payment after Howard severed financial ties with his parents. Howard claimed in a countersuit that his family conspired to defraud him. Then in December, Al Jazeera ran a report that linked Howard to performance-enhancing drugs. Howard filed a defamation lawsuit in January.

"That kind of stuff is life," Howard said. "Stuff that happens in life, it comes up and you have to deal with it. I think it would be tough for anybody at any time. But baseball becomes a great getaway for all that kind of stuff."

Howard said he has no idea why his name is one of the names that appeared in the report.

"I haven't the faintest idea," he said. "I really can't tell you. I really don't know."

MLB said it planned to investigate the claims against Howard.

Howard said his focus is on baseball until then. He said he is ready for a fresh start.

"I leave here, I go to Philadelphia, I'm going to go out there and give 110 percent every game I've got," Howard said. "Until they come to me and say they've traded you to so-and-so, then I'll go to whoever and play 110 percent. For me, it's just about playing the game right now."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.