Ryan Howard needs to return to his productive self if the Phillies hope to surprise some and make a run at the playoffs in 2014. Credit: Getty Images
It begins and ends with Ryan Howard for the Phillies. If everything else goes right for the Phillies and the Big Piece goes down, it’ll be a long summer at Citizens Bank Park.
It’s not a coincidence that the Phillies went on the greatest run in their long, mostly woebegone history, from 2007-2011, when Howard was in the heart of those lineups.
Howard missed most of 2012 and 2013 and those were the worst seasons since the hulking slugger emerged in 2005.
Metro recently sat down for a one-on-one with the player the Phillies need most to approximate what he was, a historic run producer.
When you won the Rookie of the Year in 2005 and the NL MVP in 2006, you were off the plate more than you have been over the last few seasons. Have you considered moving back off the plate?
Yes. I’ve actually moved back off the plate. That’s something I’m doing during spring training. It’s a work in progress. I’m trying to get used to the distance. I like how it feels.
Did you do this after watching video?
Yes. Absolutely. I think I would be more effective.
That way you won’t get tied up by lefties and you have long enough arms to cover the plate and extend those arms.
I really want to extend my arms. That’s something I need to give myself a chance to do and moving off the plate will definitely help that.
Is there another approach you’re taking, such as possibly being more selective?
It’s all going to depend on the situation. There will be times when I’ll try to swing early in the count. They’ll be times up there when I’ll take pitches. But I don’t want to ever not be aggressive. I’m going to be aggressive, even though I’ve shortened my swing. I’m going to try and hit the ball hard somewhere.
You lost weight and put on muscle.
I needed to do that. I have a lot of responsibility. This team is counting on me.
How are your legs?
Much better. It’s huge to have my legs under me. I didn’t have that the last couple of seasons But this year, the legs are back.
Somehow you managed to drive in 56 runs in 71 games in 2012 on one leg. How did you do that?
I drive in runs. That’s my job. I was doing that with one leg. It’ll be great this season to actually play on two functioning legs.
You’re a historic run producer. You have had three 140 plus RBI seasons. You’re going to pass the 1,000 RBI mark this season. Do you believe you get enough appreciation from Phillies fans?
The fans have been great. You can’t please everybody. What I can do is focus on what I can do on the field. But if you take a look at my body of work, it’s pretty good. I know when I retire I’ll be able to say I left it all out there on the field. I gave it all I had.
Most experts don’t have the Phillies in the running for a playoff berth. Do you use that as motivation?
We can use that as motivation, as a chip on our shoulder. I’m sure some of us will do just that.
Are people underestimating this team?
I think they are and they can do that all that they want. I wouldn’t judge us where we are now in spring training. We’re a work in progress. I have a feeling we’re not going to be on all cylinders until toward the end of March. We’re aiming for being ready March 31 in Texas. My mom once told me that anyone can beat anyone on any given day. I believe we can beat anyone in the league. We just need to stay healthy and get it going.
What do people not know about this team?
That we get along great. We’re feeling really good together. We haven’t felt good as a team in about two years. I really like the guys who joined our team like Byrd-man and (A.J.) Burnett. Our combination of talent and how we get along is going to be an awesome combination. You’ll see. Let’s talk in about a month and a half and you’ll see what I’m talking about.