Rookie Ryan Howard solidified his push for rookie of the year with a game-winning grand slam in the tenth inning last night. His seamless transition to the bigs is a credit to his toughness and athleticism, with partial credit to patient handling by Charlie Manuel.
Aside from his brief call-up in May, Howard has not been in a slump this season. That’s pretty incredible for a rookie who lives or dies with power and strikes out at the rate he does. Nearly everyone on this team has been in a slump at one point – all except Howard.
It’s hard to argue Howard has been jipped out of the experience necessary to compete at this level. He plays every day, starting all games against right-handers, and comes in to pinch hit and stay in the ball game when a left-hander starts.
That’s a lot of baseball, and a lot of good looks in pressure situations. It’s not much in terms of facing left-handers, but Howard has a long, promising career ahead of him to make the adjustments necessary to face all pitching. Once he does, the comparisons to David Ortiz will start making sense.
Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed the way Manuel has eased him in, shielding him from too many bad mismatches against left-handers. It’s not the popular choice to sit him against starting southpaws, but I’m fine with it because of situations like last night. Howard came in in the sixth inning, got a pinch hit, and stayed in the ball game to deliver in the clutch.
This tactic of Manuel’s has certainly kept his momentum going. Playing Howard 100 percent of the time, in my view, is like teaching a kid to swim by throwing him in the deep end and saying "Ok, swim." I don’t believe Howard would have the same consistency he has right now.
Manuel is a former power-hitting left-hander himself. He managed the Indians when another left-handed slugger, Jim Thome, established himself as one of the best in baseball.
Thus, Manuel has now mentored two sluggers to prominence. It’s an area that was advertised as Manuel’s strength. I believe that propaganda to be true, because the tactical stuff definitely is not his calling card.
Howard’s steady production makes him the best rookie in the National League this season in my extremely biased opinion. He pulled ahead of Jeff Francoeur last night. Francoeur went 0-5 with an error.
I’ve read Howard doesn’t deserve the honor because he can’t hit left-handers. Instead, I view it as a player taking full advantage of his strengths against right-handed pitching, and many of those opportunities have come in clutch situations.
That experience in the clutch paid off last night. Howard tagged southpaw John Foster for his first career home run off a left-hander, a game-winning grand slam that kept the Phillies season alive.
He’s a tough kid, a confident kid, and let's not forget, an athletic kid. Comcast's John Marzano said after the game that "every time Howard steps to the plate, he's in scoring position." This season, he’s tagged some of the best in the game: Pedro Martinez; Chad Cordero; A.J. Burnett, just to name a few.
Last night, Howard officially arrived. He’s here to stay, and hopefully, the Phillies find a way to keep him in town. Let the discussions begin ...
Here are some links some other blog articles and discussions that have gone up over the last few days – all dealing with different subjects related to Howard.
Tom Goyne makes a statistical case why Ryan Howard deserves rookie of the year over Jeff Francouer.
"Much of Francoeur's numbers came in his first month or two in the league, while Howard is heating up when it matters most, in September. Indeed, Howard has hit 7 homeruns and has a 1.048 OPS in September, while Francoeur has hit just two homeruns with a .748 OPS in September.
Howard is filling the shoes of Jim Thome and winning games for his team with mammoth homeruns. Francoeur is filling the shoes of...who? Raul Mondesi? Brian Jordan? And in September he has certainly faded."
Twins guru Aaron Gleeman tosses around the idea of trading center fielder Torii Hunter for Howard. Here’s that link.
Inquirer sports editor Jim Jenks asks where the Phils would be without Howard.
"What makes baseball such a difficult game is Howard's heroics of last night are now but a single moment to be remembered or forgotten. It will mean nothing with a loss tonight or another failed attempt at making the postseason. Or it could be a defining moment of a season, maybe even a blossoming young career."
Last, a good thread has opened up on Tom Goodman’s Swing and a Miss, discussing a range of options for next season, from trading Jim Thome or Howard, to testing Howard’s glove in the outfield.