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Phillies hold creative options for Spencer Howard this season

Spencer Howard could make an impact for the Phillies in multiple ways. (Steven Kiebach)

A shortened season is not what anyone had hoped for — but it could have some interesting ramifications on how the Philadelphia Phillies handle their best pitching prospect.

As we all know, Opening Day will not be taking place this Thursday, March 26. Instead, baseball is currently on an indefinite hiatus caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Although nobody is quite sure when Opening Day will happen now, it does not seem that it will be early enough to allow Major League Baseball to squeeze all 162 games into its teams’ schedules. A season with fewer games seems much more likely.

That idea of a shortened season would definitely affect how the Phillies would operate. Fewer games makes each individual game more important. The team would want to have all its best players available for a sprint to a potential postseason berth.

Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard would be one of those players the Phillies would want available. A potentially shortened season now makes it much more likely that Howard starts the season in the majors.

Phillies management has indicated that the 23-year-old Howard could be limited to a maximum of 150 innings in 2020 following a shoulder injury last season. If fewer games are played this season, he would probably be able to comfortably stay under that number, at least in the regular season.

It is still not exactly clear how the Phillies would use Howard this season.

As Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, Howard could possibly start the season in the rotation as the fifth starter. The outings could be relatively short compared to those of other starters, but this is still where the team would get the most usage out of him.

Another possibility is using Howard out of the bullpen all season. This could be a safer option for the young right-hander’s health. Howard only threw 99 1/3 innings last season, and only had one outing where he threw more than six innings. Especially now after spring training was interrupted by baseball’s suspension, the team could opt to use him as a reliever instead of trying to stretch him out for longer starts that he may not be accustomed to enduring.

Howard would certainly not be the first highly touted starting pitching prospect to begin his major-league career as a reliever if the Phillies went this route. David Price was a key member of the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen in his rookie season when they made a run to the 2008 World Series against the Phillies. Chris Sale also made 79 relief outings in his first two seasons before making his first career start in his third season for the Chicago White Sox.

Howard’s power arsenal would play out of the bullpen, while also keeping his innings count down. Although using him this way is probably not ideal, it may be the best option in such a hectic season.

No one will really know what the Phillies will do with Howard until the season (hopefully) starts. They will need to find the right balance of prioritizing what he can offer now and what he can do in the future if healthy. It’ll be interesting to see what role Howard will have whenever Opening Day rolls around. Until that day comes, the Phillies have some options to think about.


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