When the Phillies traded Spencer Howard to the Rangers last week as the key piece in their deal for Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, the deal marked the end of Howard's confounding time in the majors, which started with so much optimism but ended on a dour note after months of inconsistency and confusion.
Howard often flashed great stuff in early innings but struggled with maintaining velocity throughout his starts, and was bandied back and forth between the bullpen, a starting role, and work in the minors.
So it's not much of a surprise that, despite leaving the organization which drafted him back in 2017 and once viewed him as a foundational prospect, Howard sounds ready for a fresh start.
Howard was asked about his role with the Phillies more than once during his intro press conference with the Rangers, and his answers weren't exactly scathing, but they painted a picture of a confused 12 months in the majors.
Watching Howard answer the questions lends an extra level of context to his responses:
And here are his answers, transcribed:
"I was kind of all over the place for a bit, and then they sent me back to Lehigh to build up and get my pitch count up to an actual starter's pitch count. And then [Zach] Eflin hurt his knee, so then I just filled in that role. And I'm not sure if that was planned, to go back and do the 85-to-100 pitches in the big leagues, or if that was forced from Eflin. But, I mean - for the most part it was starting, and that's it.
"Yeah, it was tough to find a routine in there. I did my best to focus mostly on what I could control. Arm care routine, weightlifting, stuff like that to try and just be prepared for whatever they threw at me. But even then, it was - it was just a tough go up there. I'm very excited to be here."
Most of that is Howard acknowledging both he and the Phillies were placed in tough situations this year, particularly with the Eflin injury. But that last two sentences certainly make it sound like Howard was almost hoping for a change of scenery by the time the trade deadline rolled around.
And it's hard to blame the guy. He's 25 and has appeared in 39 major league games, including 29 starts, but I can't imagine he has any grasp on where he fits in the MLB landscape as a pitcher. Is he a starter? Does he slot more as a set-up man or even a closer? Being yo-yo'd between the alternate training site, Lehigh Valley, and the big leagues this year certainly made it tough to find any rhythm in a sport where the top athletes are supremely dedicated to routine. It's hard to get firm answers when the questions keep changing.
I think a lot of Phillies fans hoping Howard simply gets an opportunity in Texas to find some kind of normal, and find out whether he can stick it as a starter.
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