Since arriving in Arlington following his trade from Philadelphia, Spencer Howard has been pretty open about what went wrong during his time with the Phillies. The former Phillies No. 1 pitching prospect had a 5.81 ERA in 52 2/3 innings in Philadelphia. His struggles early on were a big reason why the Phillies were willing to part ways with him at the deadline.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Phillies dealt Howard is because the team and player’s time horizons did not match up. The Phillies saw themselves in win-now mode while Howard knew that he needed to focus on long-term development over results at the big league level.
“I could have kept doing all the things I was doing in Philly and trying to get better in the wrong way, I guess?” Howard told Levi Weaver of The Athletic during a recent postgame Zoom press conference following a start with the Texas Rangers. “Like trying to polish a turd? Or I could scrap that, put my faith in these guys in this organization, and just really get to work on becoming the best version of myself that I can be. And for me, that’s really the route that I wanted to take. I know it’s not going to be immediate. It’s gonna be a lot of tough games. But I know in the long run it’s going to be for the better.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. “Trying to polish a turd” is a hilarious way of describing how the Phillies simultaneously attempted to work around Howard’s shortcomings and relied on him to be a viable starter in a pennant race. Thankfully for Howard, a reporter asked him to clarify why the process in Philly elicited such imagery.
“It was just all results in-game,” Howard said. “For me, it was just taking my mechanics as they were and trying to make them decent enough to get outs in-game versus going through this process of scrapping everything, getting back to the basics of how your body should move, and then working from there forward. Which kind of sacrifices results, but this organization has some faith in me and I know I can get there. So it’s just a matter of grinding through this.”
Howard has struggled early on in Texas. The right hander has allowed eight earned runs in seven and one third innings over three starts. His next scheduled start will be on the road against Cleveland on Wednesday.
If you can recall spring training 2021, Howard and the Phillies expressed a ton of positivity regarding where the pitcher was following his shoulder injury that kept him out for a few weeks in 2020. Much of that momentum dissipated when Howard struggled at the major league level with issues that many thought were past him. His average velocity diminished as his starts moved along as they did last season. Howard also did not pitch more than four innings in a start this year for the Phillies.
“If you were telling me we were going to get four to five innings out of [Howard] the rest of the year on a consistent basis on his starts, I’d be thrilled,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said after the trade deadline. “With us to try to win, I don’t think that’s really enough right now from that spot.”
Dombrowski did acknowledge that the constant role switches did have a negative impact on Howard.
“I think he’s been in a tough spot in his development situation here in the organization for an extended time,” Dombrowski said. “When you look back, he’s had some injuries, he had the COVID situation, down year last year, he had some issues in spring training delaying him a little bit. Watching his innings this year, moving him back and forth, I mean it was a tough situation for him.”
At the same time, it was fair for the Phillies to expect more out of the now 25-year-old. If Howard believed he needed to go back to the drawing board and work on his mechanics while the Phillies needed him to be a No. 4 starter in a division race, it’s not surprising that the team made him available to other clubs.
In a way, the situation with Howard mirrors what happened with Scott Kingery earlier this year. Kingery came into camp with a chance to win a job as the Phillies’ starting center fielder. All of that changed when the team decided that Kingery needed to spend time in the minor leagues to revamp his swing. Injuries on the active roster meant Kingery would go back-and-forth between Triple A and the big leagues.
To give Kingery a chance to make the necessary changes, the team took him off the 40-man roster. His six-year, $24 million contract kept other teams from claiming him off waivers. Kingery is currently out for the remainder of the 2021 season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.
So far, the trade is working out well for the Phillies. Kyle Gibson has thrown at least six innings in four of his five starts with the Phillies and has stabilized the middle of the rotation. Gibson is also under contract for 2022.
While Ian Kennedy struggled in his first couple non-save opportunities, he has given up only one earned run in his last seven outings as the Phillies’ new closer. Hans Crouse, the 22-year-old pitching prospect acquired in the trade, has a 3.29 ERA in three starts with Double-A Reading.
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