The Phillies will return Spencer Howard to the majors on Saturday, but they are less than bullish that the prospect’s innings limit will allow him to stay in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season.
“It will be hard. But maybe,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Friday afternoon. “Everybody does things different. We get to June and as you know we have a lot of off days. Sometimes you can conserve innings there, sometimes you can miss a guy’s start, but I think he can come pretty close. I think.”
Howard will start Saturday’s game in place of Chase Anderson, who was shuffled to the bullpen after eight starts. The 24-year-old Howard reached the majors last summer but was slowed by a sore shoulder.
Now the Phillies are monitoring his workload as injuries have limited him in each of the past two seasons.
Dombrowski declined to say how many innings Howard will be capped at this season, but the team expects him to throw roughly 60 pitches Saturday. The Phillies sent him to triple A earlier this month to build arm strength after he pitched as a reliever earlier this season in the majors. There is a chance that his pitch count could increase as the season goes on.
“I think that’s what we’re just going to keep watching,” Dombrowski said. “How does he pitch? Let’s look at it in a lot of different ways. You could keep talking about saving him, right? Well, what are you saving him for? I mean, what happens if you’re not there in September? So I’ll deal with September when we get to September. Now, with Washington, they shut down Stephen Strasburg [in 2012] but they used him all season long to get to that point. So those are the things we’ll have to keep watching. Jeez, he’s only pitched about 10 innings. That’s all he’s pitched. He’s got a lot of innings to go ahead of him.”
Howard made three starts at triple A and struck out 13 batters in nine innings. Since his innings are limited, it didn’t make sense for Howard to pitch this weekend in Syracuse, N.Y., instead of South Philadelphia.
The move became easier to make when Anderson recorded just four outs in his last start.
The Phillies spent a combined $7 million this offseason on Anderson and Matt Moore to finish off the starting rotation. They combined for a 7.68 ERA in 11 starts and are both in the bullpen before Memorial Day.
“The way we did those, we talked about it being depth for us,” Dombrowski said. “We spent $7 million, but unfortunately, $3 [million] or $4 million gets you fifth starters. So we didn’t sign guys to multiyear contracts. So, unfortunately for us in spring training, we never really had competition for the fourth and fifth spot which we planned on because Howard and Vince Velasquez both had injury issues. Anderson and Moore became our starters.”
“If we didn’t have them, then Velasquez wouldn’t have worked up to where he is. Howard wouldn’t have worked up to where he is. So it really was a matter of getting depth. Do I hope they perform better than what they have? Yes. But I’m not ready to write them off at this point in the year.”
Howard’s pitch count will force the Phillies to lean on their bullpen every fifth day. It seems likely that Anderson will follow Howard with the goal of him providing two innings to bridge the gap between Howard and the late innings.
The Phillies will study Howard’s velocity this summer, observe the depth of his breaking balls, and test how his shoulder is feeling. A decision on when to shut him down will be based on more than how many innings he pitches. Starting Saturday, those innings will again be spent in the majors.
“That’s the only place I’ve always struggled with,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve had this conversation 20 times in my career. ‘We’re going to save him.’ Well, what are we saving him for? Right? The September innings that are not important, well, let’s make the games important and then we can deal with the circumstances at that time. Hopefully, we’re having that type of conversation.”