Spencer Howard hasn’t made a relief appearance since 2017, his second collegiate season at Cal Poly.
Could he be the Phillies' secret bullpen weapon this weekend?
Howard was reinstated from the injured list Friday, the Phillies announced, part of a sequence of roster moves in advance of a three-game series at Tampa Bay that will determine if they make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Lefty reliever Ranger Suarez was also recalled from Lehigh Valley, while outfielder Mickey Moniak and right-hander Ramon Rosso were optioned.
Vince Velasquez started Friday night in the series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field. He’s coming off a strong start last Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park when he allowed one run on two hits in six innings and threw 104 pitches.
But if Velasquez gets into trouble early against the Rays, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Phillies turn to Howard, even though he has been sidelined since leaving a Sept. 12 start in Miami with right shoulder stiffness.
“I would think of him more as a multiple-inning guy early in the game," manager Joe Girardi said Friday. “But I could use him late, as well, depending on what we have left. He threw on Wednesday. I’ll see how he feels today, because he’s not used to throwing in a sense every other day."
Howard, who entered the season as the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has a 5.92 ERA in six starts since his major-league debut Aug. 9. But he has been extremely effective early in those starts, holding opponents to a .184 average and .463 OPS one time through the batting order. The second time through, opponents are batting .405 with a 1.198 OPS against the 24-year-old.
The Phillies' bullpen has been a train wreck this season, posting a 7.17 ERA that would represent the worst 60-game stretch for any bullpen since the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks had a 7.77 mark.
Considering Howard missed two months with a sore shoulder last season, it seemed unlikely that he would pitch again this season. But he threw a bullpen session last weekend at the Lehigh Valley site and live batting practice Wednesday before being cleared to return.
“I think the downtime in the last week has been very helpful for him,” general manager Matt Klentak said Monday. “He has been trending in the right direction.”
Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are scheduled to start Saturday night and Sunday, respectively.
After hitting two home runs as the designated hitter Wednesday night in Washington, Bryce Harper reprised that role in the opener against Tampa Bay – and likely throughout the weekend, according to Girardi.
“I’m kind of thinking of him as the DH every day,” Girardi said. “In my mind that’s how I’m playing it out. Because if he feels that much better, let’s just put him there and I can put maybe who might have DHd in his spot in the outfield or just change it around a little bit."
Harper has been dealing with lower back stiffness for most of the last five weeks. He said Wednesday night that not having to stand in the outfield enabled him to stay loose throughout the game.
“If DHing gets me two home runs a night, I think we can take that,” Harper said. “I know that’s not going to happen every night. But it’s probably the best I’ve felt, just being able to stay off my feet and things like that.”
Here’s the complete lineup against Rays right-hander Charlie Morton:
LF Andrew McCutchen
3B Alec Bohm
1B J.T. Realmuto
SS Didi Gregorius
2B Jean Segura
RF Jay Bruce
C Andrew Knapp