Dombrowski on Howard's limit, rotation spots

Top prospect will make first big league start of 2021 on Saturday

May 21st, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies will no longer waste ’s innings in Triple-A.

The club announced Friday that he will replace in the rotation and start Saturday night against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Howard is the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 32 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

But what should fans expect? The Phillies have spoken cryptically at times about Howard’s undisclosed innings limit and how he might be used. Howard has battled shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. He threw 24 1/3 innings last season, 71 innings in 2019 and 112 innings in 2018. He will be monitored closely.

Can Howard pitch deep into games? If he pitches well, can he pitch in September and possibly beyond?

“We’ll tackle that when we get there,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Friday afternoon.

The Nationals took a firm stance on Stephen Strasburg in 2012 and did not allow him to pitch once he reached his innings limit, even though he could have helped them in the postseason.

Is there any wiggle room at all with Howard?

“I guess there's wiggle room,” Dombrowski said. “But I also don't think, for example, he wouldn't go out there and throw four innings tomorrow, five innings the next time, six innings the next time, seven innings the next time and keep going out there for seven innings. We don't have that type of wiggle room with him. That would be way too many innings.

“You could keep talking about saving him, right? Well, what are you saving him for? I mean, what happens if you're not there in September? So I'll deal with September when we get to September. Now, with Washington, they shut down Strasburg, but they used him all season long to get to that point. So those are the things we'll have to keep watching. Jeez, he's only pitched about 10 innings. That's all he's pitched. He's got a lot of innings to go ahead of him.”

Howard will be limited to about 60 pitches on Saturday. Dombrowski said while he would not be blown away if Howard threw 100 pitches in a game this season, it would surprise him.

The Phillies promoted Howard because Anderson and left-hander Matt Moore both struggled. Anderson is 2-4 with a 6.96 ERA in eight starts. Moore is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in nine appearances (three starts). Vince Velasquez took Moore’s spot in the rotation last month.

The Phillies committed $7 million to Anderson and Moore.

“Have they not worked out?” Dombrowski asked. “The way we did those, we talked about it being depth for us. We spent $7 million, but unfortunately, $3 or $4 million gets you fifth starters. So we didn't sign guys to multi-year contracts. So, could they still provide depth for us? Yeah, I think so. And, of course, if we didn't have them, then Velasquez wouldn't have worked up to where he is. Howard wouldn't have worked up to where he is. So it really was a matter of getting depth. Do I hope they perform better than what they have? Yes. But I'm not ready to write them off at this point in the year.”

The Phillies traded left-hander Cole Irvin to the A’s for cash in January. He is 3-5 with a 3.59 ERA in nine starts.

They could have used him in the organization, too. Any regrets there?

“I didn’t even know Cole Irvin,” Dombrowski said. “Our reports on him put him at the back end of the roster at that point. Now, would he be pitching as well here in our ballpark versus over there? I saw him pitch yesterday. So I don’t know that answer. He’s done great for them. Sure, I wish that we had him and a couple others, but we had to make some roster decisions.”

The Phillies have not developed starting pitching like they expected, which is one reason why Dombrowski is here. Dombrowski has few options to choose from. But Howard is a good one.