ARLINGTON, Texas — As if the smile on Spencer Howard’s face didn’t make it clear, he used some ‘surfer’ language to describe how happy he was to be in Texas.
“I’m super-stoked to be here,” Howard said during a pre-game Zoom call on Saturday.
Howard, once a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017, was the biggest piece of the trade that send he and two other Phillies to Texas for pitcher Kyle Gibson, Ian Kennedy and Hans Crouse. The Rangers also received Kevin Gowdy and Josh Gessner.
But Howard would be considered the prospect ‘centerpiece’ of the deal, The 25-year-old right-hander was the Phillies' No. 1 prospect on Baseball America prior to the season.
Judging by his attitude on Saturday, he’s beyond ready to get to work.
“It was a lot,” Howard said about being traded. “I felt every emotion there was yesterday. Leaving what I had always know with Philadelphia and being comfortable there, knowing everyone, having friends. But it’s good for me to be here now, have a fresh start, get to contribute to a team.”
Howard indicated that he’ll pitch a bullpen session on Sunday. No member of the Rangers’ organization has told him that he will start a game soon, but he made clear that he was ready to start. Had he stayed in Philadelphia, he would have pitched on Sunday. He also noted that the blister that had given him some issues earlier this season was now healing up.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward talked about Howard during his pre-game Zoom on Saturday. He didn’t commit to what Howard’s role would be, indicating that he wanted to talk to Howard before making a decision. But Woodward clearly was excited about the promise that Howard represented.
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“Howard was untouchable two years ago and now we were able to land him in a trade, so we’re excited,” Woodward said. “Pitchers have to be flexible. We don’t know what role he’s going to have.”
At one point, Howard threw the first no-hitter in the history of the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies Class A affiliate. He came out of college with fastball that topped 96 miles per hour. But, lately, the knock on him is that he’s lost some velocity, especially later in games, which is part of the reason Howard has bounced back and forth between the Phillies and their Triple A affiliate, Lehigh. Part of the reason to send him to Lehigh, Howard said, was to stretch him out and get his pitch count up.
Howard addressed and said he’s hoping to get more work with the Rangers. He believes that will help his velocity.
“I think it comes with practice,” I don’t remember the last time I pitched over 80 (pitches) in a game. I can condition myself all I want. But if you don’t get in the reps past a certain point in a game … it just comes with practice.”
Howard threw just 17 games in the bigs for the Phillies, going 1-2 in 2020 with six starts, 24 1/3rd innings pitched and a 5.92 earned run average. So far in 2021, he started seven games and pitched in a total of 11, going 0-2 with a 5.72 ERA. His last start on July 26 ended in a no-decision, as he threw less than four innings, giving up six hits and four runs. He hasn’t thrown more than four innings in a game this season.
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You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.