LAKEWOOD, NJ — Lost in the excitement of Chase Utley’s return in a Phillies uniform is the first big step taken by the Big Piece in Lakewood.
Ryan Howard was good in his first start with the Single-A BlueClaws, driving in three runs in their 7-6 win over West Virginia.
Howard went 2-for-4, driving in three-runs as the designated hitter. Howard’s biggest at-bat came in the 9th inning for Lakewood, who rallied from a 6-0 hole to win.
With the bases loaded, Howard hit a towering fly ball that was deep enough to score the run from third and pull the BlueClaws within one. Next hitter, hot-hitting Chris Duffy, ripped a two-run single that won the game for Lakewood.
“My focus was to get one run home and let ‘Big Duff’ take care of the rest,” Howard said. “I told him before he even went up there, I said, ‘Hey, be ready to win this game, man.’ I just went up there and did my thing, and he came through.”
Howard and Duffy drove in all seven of Lakewood’s runs.
Howard may just be having a positive influence on the 24-year-old Duffy, who is hitting .322 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 50 games with Single-A Clearwater and Lakewood this season.
Running wasn’t a problem for Howard at all, quelling all fears about how comfortable he would feel on the base paths. Howard showed he could run when he ran back to first base to prevent being doubled up as well as legged out an infield single.
“The ball Duff hit to the wall, where I went down to second and had to get back to first … felt really good, to be able to run back pretty quick, slide, pop-up slide. It felt good,” Howard said. “The running portion was the biggest thing and I felt pretty good. I didn’t really think about it, adrenaline kicked in.”
The big thing with an Achilles injury is that re-injuring it will be in the back of any athlete’s mind. But it won’t be in the back of Howard’s, at least that’s what he says.
“I’m not worried about my Achilles at all,” Howard said. “It’s just getting back into game situations and flow of the game, offense and defense.”
It’s just the first big step of many steps Howard will have to take to get himself back to the big club, where they will be anxiously waiting with open arms. He’s patient, and that’s the biggest thing.
“I’ve been patient for … what is this, eight or nine months now? Another week, two weeks isn’t going to kill me,” Howard said. “You want to be back up there as soon as you can, but at the same time, you have to take the proper precautions. I’m not going to rush myself back up there just for the sake of getting back up there. I’m going to make sure I’m good and ready to go.”