MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Part-timer Howard's focus on present, not future

One of few holdovers from Phils' Series clubs in final year of $125M deal

Part-timer Howard's focus on present, not future

NEW YORK -- From the Phillies' most recent heyday, Ryan Howard is one of the only players left standing.

That's probably more a function of the tail end of Howard's five-year, $125 million contract than anything else. There have been diminishing returns from the proud left-handed-hitting first baseman lately, and the Phillies haven't been able to move him.

Howard is now a part-time player, facing only right-handed pitching. In his 13th season, all with the Phils, he's a .219 lifetime hitter against lefties. Last year it was .130 with three of Howard's 23 homers and 10 of his 77 RBIs. Manager Pete Mackanin saw enough.

"He's not going to face lefties, occasionally here and there," Mackanin said before Sunday's 5-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field. "I think that's going to help all the way around. Last year, he really wasn't very good against lefties. The fact he won't have to worry about them is going to make him even more productive against right-handers. At least that's what the hope is."

Howard's two-run homer

Mackanin's hope for Howard played itself out well Saturday against seemingly ageless right-hander Bartolo Colon. He led off the fifth with an opposite-field homer into the left-field seats, providing the only scoring in a 1-0 Phillies victory, their first of the season after four losses.

It was Howard's second of the young season and the 359th of his career, pushing him past Yogi Berra and Carlos Lee into a tie for 83rd on the all-time list with Johnny Mize.

The homer was Howard's 45th along with 130 RBIs against the Mets.

"[Colon] gave me a good pitch to hit and I drove it out of the ballpark," Howard said Sunday. "Luckily for us, it was enough."

True to form, Howard was back in the lineup Sunday against star Mets right-hander Matt Harvey.

Howard rolled his eyes when asked about the restrictions now being imposed on him against left-handed pitching.

Howard's RBI double

"Oh my gosh, there's nothing I can do about it," he said. "I mean, it is what it is with the situation. I'll just roll with it, I guess. I'm just going to leave it at that."

Howard was a fifth-round pick by the Phillies in the 2001 Draft, and he emerged as as powerhouse player. In '06, he hit 58 homers, knocked in 149 runs and had a 1.084 OPS, all career highs. In '08, when the Phils defeated the Rays in a five-game, rain-delayed World Series, Howard hit 48 homers and collected 146 RBIs.

From 2006-09, Howard's four-season power numbers looked like this: 198 homers and 572 RBIs. Outstanding. Because of injuries and wear and tear, he hasn't come close again to replicating that kind of production. Back then, it didn't matter which hand a pitcher threw with. Howard simply hit it.

Be that as it may, Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz are the only players remaining from the team that defeated the Rays and then lost to the Yankees in a six-game 2009 World Series.

"That's crazy," Howard said. "But that's what happens."

Howard's solo blast

Staples of that 2008 team are elsewhere: Shortstop Jimmy Rollins with the White Sox; second baseman Chase Utley and right-hander Joe Blanton are with the Dodgers; outfielders Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino are with the Nationals and Cubs, respectively, and left-hander Cole Hamels, the MVP of both the 2008 National League Championship Series and the World Series, is pitching for the Rangers.

Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Brad Lidge are all out of the game.

Howard, 36, could soon follow that path. The Phillies are in a rebuilding mode and he is in the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Phils can exercise a $23 million option to retain Howard for '17 or buy him out for $10 million.

It's hard to believe they are going to exercise that option.

"Fortunately, we have all summer," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said Sunday.

"I can't worry about any of that now," Howard said. "We'll see how it plays itself out."

30 in 30: Ryan Howard

Mackanin, who had two previous stints on the Phils' coaching staff before replacing Ryne Sandberg as interim manager last June 26, has to balance out all these issues. He's charged with developing the young players and utilizing the remaining veterans.

As far as Howard's approach this season, Mackanin said: "He's trying to stay on top of the ball instead of working underneath the ball. He's looks pretty confident. He's going to be a big part of our offense, at least I hope he will be."

Whether Howard will be a big part of the Phillies moving forward, Mackanin said that that's well beyond his pay grade.

"It is what it is," he said, using the same catch phrase as Howard. "I don't really know what their plans are."

If Howard continues to hit home runs, sooner rather than later, it all will be revealed.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.