Ryan Howard is getting... faster?!
Sandberg on Howard: "I see some better bat speed this early in the spring than I did last year this early."— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) March 3, 2015
Ryan Howard is getting... slimmer?!
Ryan Howard looks as trim as I've ever seen him— Matt Kardos ⚾ (@mattkardos) March 4, 2015
Ryan Howard, you might say, is one of the only recognizable Philadelphia sports figures at the moment who isn't in danger of being traded, but he's the only guy who has been performing in 100% of his opportunities.
Most shocking event today in Philly sports? Ryan Howard went 2-for-2 with an RBI.— Jerry Gaul (@jerry_gaul) March 3, 2015
Batting in the Phillies' first spring training game since being defeated by a Division II college, and second spring training game overall, Howard stared back at the hopeful young eyes of top Yankees pitching prospect Luis Severino and showed the youngling what an absurdly large (but trim!) human can do with a stick in his hands.
After the game, Severino couldn't help but gush over the slugger's aura and how horrifying it was to have to face him without wetting himself.
"Howard -- because it's Howard," Severino said. "A long at-bat, it's a good challenge. I tried to strike him out or get him out, but I didn't get it."
You sure didn't, Severino, and in the Yankees system, that means you face being dropped into the subterranean hellscape below Yankee Stadium to do battle with any one of the mythic, presumed-fictional beasts nesting beneath its surface.
"Good job," manager Joe Girardi reportedly told his starter, suppressing tears as he pictured the unknowable horrors that await the oblivious rookie.
But on the Ryan Howard side of the at-bat, the soft ground ball that became a single tells only half the story. The other half is Howard's other single, which was a bloop into right field that ended in Freddy Galvis sliding across home plate, safe from Chris Young's grotesque throw from right field, and tied the game at one in the fourth. Howard's clutch factor is somewhere in the .99998 range to start the season - he even had a diving stop on a ground ball.
Instead of people attacking him with angry grunts and snorts or criticizing his motives using childlike logic, Howard has spent the spring being the recipient of praise, as if he was some sort pleasant human to be around.
"Howard is arguably the most affable and accountable player in the Phillies' clubhouse. He has been for years."
"[Howard] also appears to be having a lot of fun on the field."
A lot of it seems to do with what Howard is not doing: He's not eating sugar, thus the weight loss. He's not talking about the story of his family hoarding his money; he's not talking about his GM saying he'd be better off on a different team over the winter. He's not not looking at video of his past at-bats and learning from them.
A great first five innings and two at-bats for the Phillies' current spring training leader in offense. And now, to preserve this momentum for the next 6.9 months.