By Sarah Berkowitz
Ryan Howard has always had a problem hitting curve balls, especially from a lefty.
And now he can’t hit fastballs!
So, it wasn’t surprising that the Phillies’ first baseman wasn’t in the lineup Wednesday night against the Mets’ Jonathon Neise.
Could this become a pattern?
“You’ve got to talk to the manager about that,” Howard said. “You keep bringing up these lefty questions. I talked with Ryno [manager Ryne Sandberg] earlier about that kind of stuff. I think right now it’s more so trying to get rest, days off here and there.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a pattern. I think early on he said that he’s going to pick days to get rest. Obviously with it being two lefties and two days off people are going to try to make something out of it, but it’s nothing. Like I said, we had that conversation earlier that when this situation arises that’s what it is.”
Howard entered Wednesday hitting .148 (4-for-27) with three doubles, one RBI and 10 strikeouts.
And, pitchers have been attacking Howard with fastballs more than ever.
“It’s confusing isn’t it?” Howard said.
According to FanGraphs pitch type data, 59 percent of the pitches Howard has seen this season have been fastballs. That is his highest percentage of fastballs since he became an everyday player as a rookie in 2005, when it was 58.3 percent.
That number dipped as low as 44.8 percent in 2009, remaining in the 44.8 to 51.3 percent range from 2007-13.
It is a small sample size, but FanGraphs Pitch f/x plate discipline data also shows Howard is seeing 55 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this season, far and away his highest percentage since it started recording the data in 2007. It has been between 39.5 to 43.7 percent from 2007-14.
The data also shows Howard is swinging at more pitches than ever before, but making less contact when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone.
“We’ll see as we go forward,” Sandberg said, when asked if this could become a regular thing. “It’s a chance for a right-handed bat to get in there. Kind of take that a series at a time.”
“I have to make adjustments,” Howard said. “You get guys like [Max] Scherzer and [Matt] Harvey yesterday, those guys will sit 95, 96 mph. There’s been a pretty good amount. It’s just about getting them in the zone and taking care of them.”
Sandberg said he sees bat speed with Howard, but he also said adjustments are needed.
“He’s getting fastballs throughout the game,” Sandberg said. “I’ve had a conversation with him about being on the fastball. Each day that’s a different speed. It’s a game of adjustments. If a guy’s at 96, then you need to do something to be a little earlier to be on 96. If it’s 89 and sinker that day then you want to be on 89 and sink. That’s the game of adjustments. That’s where the inconsistency has been, just not being on the fastball that day.
“The amount of fastballs that he’s getting, he should look fastball and just really disregard the breaking ball until he gets two strikes.”