Spencer Howard’s debut Thursday afternoon with the Texas Rangers looked just like the 13 starts he made as a Phillie.
He threw two strong innings to begin the game before unraveling in the third, allowing three runs and being lifted after 2⅓ innings.
The Rangers had Howard on a three-inning limit so it’s not as if the troublesome third inning derailed what could have otherwise been a long start. But it did continue the theme of Howard beating hitters early, then facing comfortable swing after comfortable swing once they've seen his repertoire. He hasn't shown an ability to work his way out of those jams.
Howard’s opponents are 0 for 24 with 11 strikeouts in the first inning this season, which included a strikeout of Shohei Ohtani Thursday.
The first time through the order, his opponents have hit .148.
After the first trip through the order? His opponents have hit .480.
Nothing about it has looked like a coincidence, and the numbers scream reliever, but Howard just turned 25 two days before the trade deadline and will be given more opportunities to start.
After being traded to Texas for Kyle Gibson, Ian Kennedy and pitching prospects Hans Crouse, Howard spoke to Rangers reporters about what went wrong in Philadelphia. He went through how the Phillies bounced him from role to role, moving him back and forth from Triple A to the majors to Triple A and then back to the majors when Zach Eflin’s knee tendinitis forced a rotation need.
Those who didn’t witness Howard's growing pains here might be quick to accept that the Phillies were solely to blame for their handling of a once-top pitching prospect, but Howard, too, deserves his share of the blame.
He was unable to maintain fastball velocity, did not improve enough upon his secondary pitches, had trouble staying healthy, and made several bizarre excuses to explain early collapses in games. Among them: tiring out jogging down the first-base line on a groundball, and not knowing the value of eating a pregame meal.
In Texas, he will try to flip the script. The Rangers are excited about acquiring a young, cost-controlled pitcher who was untouchable just a year ago. Howard has a lot of work to do reach his potential, and a change of scenery isn’t going to instantly unlock hidden abilities. In 14 career starts, he has completed five innings one time. His biggest confidence-builder since that five-inning start last summer was pitching three scoreless innings at Yankee Stadium in July.