By Sam Bush

Welcome to the Spencer Howard Era.

The Phillies are calling up right-hander and top pitching prospect Spencer Howard to start one of today’s doubleheader games against the Braves.

The team has technically not confirmed the call-up, but manager Joe Girardi made it clear:

“I have no official announcement, but you can expect a young right-hander to start tomorrow,” Girardi said yesterday. “But I have no official announcement. I’ll just leave it at that. Whose initials are S.H.”

“Stay tuned. There’s a guy that we could use in a lot of different roles,” Girardi told reporters earlier in the week. “… I think there’s a number of different ways that we could use him, whether it’s starting or relieving.”

Howard, 24, was a second-round pick in 2017 and he quickly established himself as one of the game’s top pitching prospects.

Here’s what CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson wrote:

Howard has the chance to be an above-average big-league starter thanks to a well-rounded arsenal that includes a high-quality fastball and slider, as well as a changeup and curve. He’s yet to top 130 innings, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Phillies manage his workload.

Shoulder trouble limited Howard to 71 minor-league innings last season, during which he posted a 2.01 ERA with 94 strikeouts and only 16 walks split mostly between High Class-A and Double-A. He managed a 2.11 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League after the season.

“His stuff is electric,” infielder Scott Kingery told Zolecki recently. “I’ve faced him a couple times. It didn’t turn out well for me. He’s got good stuff. He’s someone that can help the team. If that’s what happens, then I think we’re all going to be excited for it.”

Howard is expected to remain in the rotation, though Girardi left the door open for a bullpen role.

The Phils relief crew has allowed 19 runs in 21 2/3 innings in the early going. Vince Velasquez is the most likely candidate to be bumped to the bullpen should Howard remain in the rotation.

The Phillies have played only seven games this season because their proximity to the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak forced them to shut down for a week. The club has manipulated Howard’s service time — he has been at the alternate site long enough to push his free agency back from the 2025-26 offseason to the 2026-27 offseason — which technically doesn’t violate the collective bargaining agreement, but is a bad-faith tactic.

According to Sportsline, the Phillies have a 53.2 percent chance to make the expanded postseason field. The 60-game season means Howard’s workload should be a non-issue. That doesn’t mean the Phillies will run him into the ground, but they can take the reins off a bit and let him pitch without restrictions every five days.

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