Ryan Howard returned to the diamond Thursday night, going 2 for 4 in five plate appearances with the Lakewood BlueClaws and helping to drive in three runs.
Howard and the BlueClaws took on the West Virginia Power in front of a sold-out, 8,000-person crowd at FirstEnergy Park in Howard's first game back since tearing his Achilles tendon last season.
“It felt good. The running portion was the biggest thing, it felt good,” Howard said.
Howard batted fouth and served as the designated hitter for the BlueClaws Thursday night. In his first at-bat, he grounded out to the shortstop. In his next two plate appearances, Howard hit the ball to the same general area. In the fourth inning, he drove in two RBIs, and in the fifth inning Howard was able to reach on an infield single.
When asked if hitting grounders to the same location frustrated him, he said he was ok with it. “No, that’s a hit. That’s a hit. I mean, their shift was a little bit different than the big leagues' guy. The shortstop's usually playing on the infield behind second base,” Howard said. “This guy was standing out there, high-fiving the center fielder.”
Howard then struck out in the seventh inning for what looked like his final plate appearance. However, a BlueClaws rally in the ninth loaded the bases for the three-time All-Star and former NL MVP. “It was fun to get back into it, game on the line type situations or big plays. My focus was to get at least one run home,” he said.
Howard drove the ball hard to left center, bringing the sell-out crowd to their feet. The sacrifice fly was caught on the warning track, but still managed to drive in a run. The next batter hit a two-run single to take the win over the Power.
After Thursday night's game Howard talked about the injury that ended the Philadelphia Phillies season last year. “I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “Adrenaline kicked in. I’m not worried about my Achilles at all.”
Howard is looking forward to playing with Philadelphia, but does not intend to rush back. “I’ve been patient for eight or nine months now,” he said. “Another week or two is not going to kill me.”
If his rehab does take the full 20 days, Howard should rejoin Philadelphia in their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After unretiring Howard's number prior to Thursday's game, he will get another chance to wear it on Friday night as the Claws announced he will continue his rehab with the local team for at least another day. Howard is expected to return to the field on Friday as the first baseman as they open up their series against the Hagerstown Suns.