Ryne Sandberg Says Ryan Howard’s Knee Injury Still Limiting Defense
In the top of the eighth inning on Wednesday, first baseman Ryan Howard misplayed a Logan Schafer ground ball that allowed a run to score to break a 4-4 tie. Schafer would come around to score on Ryan Braun‘s triple later in the inning as well, meaning the error was a costly one. After the game, manager Ryne Sandberg said that Howard’s knee injury — he tore his meniscus in early July last season — is still bothering him. Via CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank:
“I think he has some restrictions there,” Sandberg said Thursday, a day after Howard’s costly error in the Phils’ third straight loss. [...]
“Whether he’s slightly restricted on getting full athletic position and really getting down and low where a guy would want to be, he is restricted to some extent there,” Sandberg said.
“But even last year, with a bum knee, he was fine as far as picking balls and receiving balls and actually throwing to the bases. It’s continued work and practice, and I see him improving in that area.”
If these two .gifs are any evidence, he’s right that Howard is less than 100 percent:
Howard also hasn’t done much at the plate, slashing .200/.317/.343 with one home run through nine games. He has struck out in 13 of 41 plate appearances for a 32 percent rate, between his rates in 2012 (34 percent) and 2013 (30 percent). Last season, only six qualified hitters struck out at a 30 percent rate or higher. Further, Howard has had trouble generating power on anything past the inside third of the plate, which you can see in the second (ISO) heat map posted here.
Howard has played in all nine of the Phillies’ games thus far, though there have been a couple days off in between due to the scheduling and the postponed home opener on Monday. But Sandberg should consider giving Howard a rest to see if that helps in any way, even if it’s small. The Phillies are already on thin ice when it comes to dealing with injuries to key players. Better to lose him for one or two days every two weeks than to slowly exacerbate a preexisting injury and lose him for the rest of the season in, say, July.