Five nights after Spencer Howard made his major-league debut, the Phillies were eager to watch him pitch again Friday night, free this time from the first-start jitters and the irregularity of a schedule in which he went nine days between outings.
"I expect we'll see a better version," manager Joe Girardi said a few hours before Howard took the mound.
Alas, Howard wasn’t long for the series opener against the rival New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. He exited with one out in the fourth inning, after only 69 pitches, walking off the field with an athletic trainer and looking at a blister under the nail on his right middle finger.
“Trainers don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think it’s a big deal either,” Howard said after the game. “Probably just more preventative than anything.”
Indeed, Girardi said the Phillies don’t believe Howard will miss a start, especially because Monday’s off-day will enable him to have extra rest. Howard isn’t lined up to pitch again until Thursday’s doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo.
Howard, who allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings of his debut against the Atlanta Braves last Sunday, gave up four runs (three earned) against the Mets, too, including back-to-back solo home runs on offspeed pitches to lefty-hitting Dom Smith and Robinson Cano in the third inning.
But Howard also didn't get much help from his defense. The Phillies made five misplays through three innings. Three of them occurred in the outfield, four contributed to a run scoring against Howard.
Left fielder Jay Bruce didn't aggressively charge a single in the first inning, allowing Brandon Nimmo to advance from first to third on the play. Nimmo scored two batters later when shortstop Didi Gregorius was unable to make the transfer at second base on a potential double-play grounder.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto made a throwing error on Andres Gimenez's steal of second in the second inning before a fly ball fell between Bryce Harper and Roman Quinn in right-center field for an RBI single for Luis Guillorme.
In the third inning, after the homers by Smith and Cano, Quinn overran Wilson Ramos' two-out fly ball to center field.
Howard, the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, made the start over Vince Velasquez, who was pushed to the bullpen until next week, when the Phillies will need six starters because of the doubleheader. Girardi explained that Velasquez has more experience coming out of the bullpen than Howard, who hasn’t pitched in relief since 2015 as a redshirt sophomore at Cal Poly.