CINCINNATI -- If he hadn't already made a strong enough case to get called up to the big leagues, Spencer Howard gave the Phillies something else to think about Wednesday night.
Starting for double-A Reading in Game 1 of the Eastern League playoffs, Howard gave up one run on two hits and recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in seven innings in a 4-3 loss to Trenton. The Phillies’ top pitching prospect threw 99 pitches, also the most in his career. He didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning, when Trenton’s Ben Ruta reached on an infield single.
The Phillies have talked internally about calling up Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander and their second-round pick in 2017. He missed two months in the middle of the season with a sore shoulder but posted a 2.35 earned-run average in his final six regular-season starts after getting called up to Reading.
It's conceivable that Howard could help the Phillies in the wild-card chase. But there are caution flags, too. He has made only seven starts above the high-A level and has not yet thrown the different ball -- with smaller seams -- that is being used this season in triple-A and the big leagues.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler recently said that he’s “kind of dreaming of what [Howard] can be, whether that happens at some point late this season or it happens next year.”
“One thing we’ve seen is the adjustment to the baseball is real,” Kapler added. “It’s a difficult thing just going from double A to triple A with the different baseball. I think there’s a lot of things to consider when you talk about when the right time to advance Spencer Howard is."