As reported by Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, Ryan Howard appeared fit and trim as he stepped onto an elevator at Citizens Bank Park. Only seven teams in baseball history have had at least four players 34 or older qualify for the batting title in the same season. Only two have had five, which shows how tough it is to have older players remain healthy for the entire season. But Howard isn't concerned about age.
"Yeah, I just turned 34, but do I act 34? I''ll be honest. I get so tired hearing about the age thing. Age is a number. Yeah, I've had injuries the past two years. But Bryce Harper had injuries last year. He's 21. Injuries don't discriminate. Injuries happen to everybody. This is what happens in this game. If you're playing on a regular basis, you're putting your body through it. It's all about how you take care of your body. If you still have the skill level of playing every day and producing every day, then age doesn't play a factor. I can be 38 and if I'm hitting 40, 50 home runs a year, are we having this conversation about age?"
How was limited to 151 games over the past two season due to an Achilles injury in 2012 and knee injury in 2013. He batted only .244 with 25 home runs and 99 RBI during that span. He struggled even more against left-handed pitching that usual with a .173 average. He last full season was in 2011 in which he hit 33 home runs and knocked in 116 runs. He feels he can bounce back, similar to the way David Ortiz did with the Red Sox.
"Everybody in this league has experienced success on every level that they've played," he said. "You have success and then you have a little bit of turmoil. It's how you find a way to get back to that success, like Marlon Byrd, like David Ortiz. Age doesn't play a factor."
The Phillies must have faith that Howard can bounce back. They have invested $227 million in Howard, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz and Byrd, with $67.5 million of that coming next season. It's vital that Howard does his job in the middle of the order. Even though Howard struggled the last two seasons, the Phillies were 77-63 with him in the lineup and 77-107 without him. So, his mere presence alone, amounted an increase in winning percentage by 13.2 percent.
The Phillies need Ryan Howard to bounce back and become the 30 to 35 home run and 100 to 120 RBI man in the middle of the order. Although those aren't Ryan Howard numbers in his prime, that would certainly be very solid, near top echelon cleanup hitter numbers. He believes such numbers are still attainable.
"Can I be a 30-100 guy?" he said. "Yeah, I definitely think so. I believe in my ability. I hear what people say. It's cool. You guys are all entitled to your opinions. But let's say I come back and I do what I do. Then what? If I come back and put up numbers like '07, '08, '09, then what? Are we having these conversations? I've never been one to make excuses. I've always tried to get things done, but when you're hurt, at times you're a different player. For me, finally being able to be healthy and play ... you saw it with Chase. His legs were under him last season. It's playing pain free and not having to compensate. I was trying to compensate so I didn't feel pain, but still give whatever it is that I had. I'm just going to try to come out pain free and do damage."
Howard is a career .271 hitter with 311 home runs and 963 RBI. His is a three-time All Star, Rookie of the Year in 2005 and NL MVP in 2006.