March 07, 2005

Howard shines in broadcast opener

Ryan Howard belted a solo jack to right-center, walked twice, and played a good game at first, as the Phillies got their broadcast season underway Sunday afternoon against Boston.

The Phils got out to a 4-1 lead before Keith Bucktrot allowed four runs in a third of an inning as the Sox came back to win 5-4.

What I saw
It felt good to sit down Sunday afternoon with a bag of Lays and a plate of reheated lasagna, turn on UPN 57, and watch the first televised Phillies game of spring.

I liked what I saw out of several players. Howard and Kenny Lofton, who tripled, looked good at the plate. Randy Wolf gave up three hits but didn't allow a run. Robinson Tejeda, at Reading last year, fanned three in relief, and BPF favorite son, catcher Carlos Ruiz, made a play at the plate and gunned down a base runner.

Despite a decent showing yesterday, the Phillies are now 0-4 to open the Grapefruit League, although disgruntled fans shouldn't put much stock into the slow start.

Yesterday's loss can be hung on Bucktrot, who's trying to climb back to prospect status after a disappointing season in Reading. The last half of the game was largely a battle to see which Triple-A pitchers would screw up least, though Charlie Manuel gave extra innings to several regulars, including Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Todd Pratt and Jason Michaels.

Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell
It's early, but one gets a sense that two players will be followed in the boxscores more than most this spring: Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell. One is seen through eyes of excitement, the other through unease.

Though team officials believe the Howard outfield experiment won't work, it's got to be tempting not to squeeze him onto the 25-man roster somehow, though the sensible decision is to start him in Scranton where he can play everyday. My prediction is the team starts him in Scranton and brings him back for interleague play in May, where he stays on for the rest of the season.

Say what you will about Howard's lack of experience against proven pitchers; the 26-year-old has a big-league swagger, and is carrying himself like the player who sat in the opposite dugout yesterday: David Ortiz.

But any reasonable baseball mind knows Howard should have been traded this offseason. Forty-six homers and No. 1 prospect status by Baseball America has built a legend out of a player with only 39 big-league at bats. His ceiling was awfully high this winter, and when the team received offers, the Phils insisted he was going nowhere.

In keeping him, that potential can never be fully exposed until 2008 for sure, when Jim Thome's contract expires. And for a team whose biggest weakness last year was starting pitching, the Phillies should have used Howard to bait some team into trading away a stud starter.

That would have been the smart thing to do. But smart is boring, and Howard is anything but boring at this early stage. Watching him blossom last year in Reading, and watching him yesterday, you can see the star on the rise. As a fan, and as an organization, watching him lead the American League in homers would burn like acid.

Fans and officials once got that tingle from Pat Burrell, too, but now the reaction is more like nervous heaves. Though he doubled in his third at bat yesterday, he struck out in his first two, and looked especially bad in his first. The broadcasters made special note of it.

All that said, it's early. Four games in, and the most important thing isn't winning, it's seeing what you got and who can help you.

Early pitching concerns
The injury to Vicente Padilla hurts, but it's not the end of the world as Gavin Floyd should be ready to fill in if Padilla isn't back to open the season. But one more injury in the rotation will become a major concern. With nothing ready in the pipeline, the team would turn to either Terry Adams, Amary Telemaco or Ryan Madson to fill in. The health or Padilla and Wolf will be critical, and Brett Myers and Cory Lidle must be solid at the back of the rotation.

Right now, the starting rotation is the biggest potential problem for 2005.

What's on tap for BPF
Later today, I'll check back in with more on the 2005 broadcast opener, including a look at the Phillies bizarre promotional ads.


At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Tom G said...

You compared Ryan Howard to David Ortiz, who is nicknamed Big Papi...does that mean the Phils have a Big Howie?

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Tom G said...

That was a pretty bad joke on my part. Right now I am down in the count 0-2 after my "Bourn Identity" headline.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Jason Weitzel said...

Yeah. You need a nice, slow meatball tossed your way to break out of the funk, like if Ed Wade signed Paul Abbott.


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