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Howard Looking Fit; Lee Looking Like Lee

-According to many reports in Clearwater, Ryan Howard has come into camp looking as fit as he has in many years. That line is rather customary this time of year, and can often mean nothing down the line. However, if there’s anyone who needs to be in pristine shape, it’s Ryan Howard. Hopefully his svelte appearance and somewhat-nimble feet translate into something that is a positive for the Phillies; either in the field or on the trade market.

I’ve seen reports from the beat writers with the Phillies that he’s running without a limp for the first time since Achilles surgery. That seems like decades ago.

Last season, playing in 153 games, Howard struggled. Sure, he hit 23 home runs, but his .310 on-base percentage and .380 slugging were by far the lowest of his career. How much can he up those numbers?

-Cliff Lee had not gotten the same publicity that Howard and Cole Hamels had all offseason. That has changed since he opened up his spring training press conference and conferred with a Magic 8 Ball for guidance. All he’ll need this year is a healthy arm and teams around baseball should be knocking on the Phillies door hoping to add a veteran presence to their rotation.

The healthy arm is not a given, as we know. Lee dealt with elbow troubles that sapped his season in 2014, allowing him to make just 13 starts. So far, so good.

Jim Salisbury reports Lee tossed from a mound 15 times before joining his mates in Clearwater, with no setbacks. On Wednesday, Lee threw batting practice to teammates and will look to ramp it up soon.

Last season, Lee’s 1.33 WHIP was the highest since 2007, just before his breakout Cy Young campaign with Cleveland. That was also a year that his ERA went north of six. Salisbury has rumbled that the Red Sox could press the issue with Lee should he show he’s healthy early on. We know Boston has interest in Hamels, but could look to Lee as a cheaper trade candidate.

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