Spencer Howard recovered from allowing a home run in the first inning of a 6-4 win over the Tigers to rack up four strikeouts in two innings Wednesday as he made his first Grapefruit League start for the Phillies.

Joe Girardi is allowing each of the four finalists for the last two rotation roles — Howard, Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and Vince Velasquez — a chance to start games this spring. Wednesday in Clearwater was Howard’s turn.

Howard allowed a leadoff single to Victor Reyes, followed by a two-run homer to Issac Paredes. He then retired the next six batters. Howard generated 13 swings-and-misses and fired his fastball at an average of 94.3 mph. His changeup was especially sharp as he used it for three of his four strikeouts.

» READ MORE: Vince Velasquez’s future with the Phillies may come down to this choice: Pitching depth or a 40-man roster spot? | Extra Innings

In two appearances this spring, Howard looks like a different pitcher than the one who was slowed last season by a sore shoulder.

“It’s not even close,” Howard said. “This is the best I’ve felt physically in a long time. Everything just feels like it’s moving good and I’m going to stick to my routine and try to ride this out.”

Anderson followed Howard with two scoreless innings. He allowed one hit, walked two, and struck out one.

He has not allowed a run in four spring innings. It remains likely that Anderson and Matt Moore will begin the season in the back of the rotation, forcing the Phillies to decide if Howard belongs in the bullpen or Allentown.

One up

The Phillies will receive an update later this week on J.T. Realmuto’s thumb, but they received a good sign Wednesday from potential backup Jeff Mathis, who homered in the third inning. Mathis, who turns 37 later this month, is in camp on a minor-league deal and would likely be Andrew Knapp’s backup if Realmuto is not ready for the season opener. Rafael Marchan, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, was slowed last week by a hamstring injury.

“Overall, a great dude,” Howard said of Mathis.

One down

Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, and Didi Gregorius — the lineup’s first four hitters on Wednesday — combined to go 0-for-11 with six strikeouts. It’s hard to get too worked up about how veterans are hitting in spring, but McCutchen is 2-for-13, and Gregorius and Segura are both 1-for-12. Check back in a week.

Two up

Tony Watson, in camp on a minor-league deal, struck out two of the four batters he faced in one inning. His one hit allowed was a line drive that Watson blocked with his glove. He was visited by a trainer and Girardi but remained in the game to finish the inning. Both appearances this spring have been scoreless. Watson seems to have an inside track on a bullpen job along with Brandon Kintzler, who threw a scoreless inning. The 35-year-old Watson had a 2.50 ERA last season in 21 appearances with the Giants.

Two down

Héctor Rondón, another reliever on a minor-league deal competing for a bullpen role, allowed a two-run homer in a rough inning. Rondón allowed three hits and two runs, one of which scored after his inning was extended by a failed double-play turn. Rondón had a 7.65 ERA in 23 games last season with Arizona.

Three up

The Phillies gave Brad Miller $3.5 million to be a bench player, but he’ll likely see a decent amount of starts in the infield and outfield corners. He hit an opposite-field homer to left in the fourth inning and went 3-for-3 with two runs scored. Luke Williams, a minor-leaguer who can handle almost every position, hit a three-run homer later in the fourth. He could play a utility role in the majors.

Up next

The Yankees travel across the causeway to play the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Thursday in Clearwater. The game will be televised by NBC Sports Philadelphia+.