Expect Phillies to be careful with Spencer Howard in 2021
By Matt Rappa
Fundamentals, preparedness, chemistry, and mental toughness will all be important factors for the Philadelphia Phillies to succeed during the 2021 season. In the second year under manager Joe Girardi, players will begin to work on those aspects in the coming weeks as spring training gets underway in Clearwater, Florida. Monday — “Truck Day” — marks a first big step toward the baseball season’s arrival.
Phillies RHP Spencer Howard has the most to benefit from the rotation depth.
When it comes to roster makeup, in particular, one of the most important things the team is considering early on is having enough pitching depth. Girardi stressed that depth is going to be “really important” on a recent Pine Tar for Breakfast podcast with Kevin Frandsen.
In the transition from a 60-game sprint to a 162-game marathon, the additions of Matt Moore and Chase Anderson to the rotation will help limit innings for other Phillies starters — including Spencer Howard.
In recent years, the 24-year-old right-hander has battled shoulder fatigue, and late during his rookie season saw a noticeable decline in fastball velocity. Through six starts, the longtime top Phillies pitching prospect went just 1-2 with a 5.92 ERA, 1.644 WHIP, and 23-10 strikeouts-to-walks ratio spanning 24 1/3 innings. Against 113 batters faced, Howard yielded 30 hits, 17 runs (16 earned), and six home runs.
In 2019, Howard went a combined 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA through 15 starts, although he threw only 71 innings. Between the 2017 and 2018 campaigns at Single-A, he had tossed just 28 1/3 and 112 innings, respectively.
“Spencer Howard has never reached 150/160 innings,” Girardi continued, “so we understand that we have to be somewhat careful with him.”
The Phillies may not be as careful with some of their other starting pitchers.
As far as it relates to Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin — the presumed Nos. 1 through 3 starters in the rotation, Girardi and new pitching coach Caleb Cotham might not be as careful:
"“A lot of people are worried about innings and fatigue because guys didn’t have innings [in 2020]. But, you take a starter that got hurt during the course of the season. Maybe he took a line drive off the shin and missed two or three months,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s probably exaggerated, but let’s just say he pulled a ribcage muscle, missed two or three months, and only threw 100 innings. Well, if he had thrown 200 innings the year before, you are counting on him to give you 200 innings that year. You’re not saying, ‘Well, he only threw 100. We can only go to like 130 or 140.’ You don’t say that.”"
The Phillies skipper believes some of these guys are going to be fine and will be able to provide a lot of innings. Others, including Howard, are expected to struggle — explaining why the team went out and added the veterans Moore and Anderson, with rumored interest in another similar arm ahead of spring training. And by having them, Howard will not be relied on as much to eat innings, a win-win for both sides.
“We felt like we needed depth and that’s exactly what Dave [Dombrowski] went out and did,” Girardi continued. “He got us depth. There will also be competition for spots, and some of these guys can go to the bullpen, which I think makes us better as well.
“It just gives us depth and I think it’ll really help us.”