ARLINGTON -- When the Rangers acquired Spencer Howard from the Phillies at the 2021 Trade Deadline, no one hid the fact that his development may be a work in progress.
Howard, who entered the season ranked as Philadelphia’s top prospect by MLB Pipeline, struggled during his first full big league season after making his debut in 2020. That was clear even in his final start of this season in the Rangers’ 9-6 loss to Cleveland on Friday night at Globe Life Field.
Howard was done after 3 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs (five earned) on five hits and three walks. He finished the season with 49 2/3 innings, 52 strikeouts, 27 walks and a 7.43 ERA between Philadelphia (28 1/3 innings) and Texas (21 1/3 innings).
“I think the first however many hitters, he was good,” manager Chris Woodward said. “But then you go back and look, and it wasn't like exceptional execution. It was just decent. They just overpowered him. I think [he needs] to be consistent. It’s always like the delivery is not where it needs to be.”
Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nathaniel Lowe both launched solo home runs, and Jose Trevino added a two-run jack in the ninth. Lowe finished 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Woodward said that while he’s glad the team fought for a comeback attempt, that doesn’t erase the poor play from earlier in the game.
The Rangers hopped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, as Howard retired the first seven batters he faced. Then, a one-out home run from Austin Hedges sparked a four-run inning for Cleveland in the top of the third.
Cleveland sent all nine batters to the plate in the fourth, when Howard was pulled after recording two outs. Howard said he felt the game speed up at that point as he lost his mechanics, and it snowballed on him.
“I think the biggest thing is a lot of our younger starters have had a really tough time of just righting the ship,” Woodward said. “That's something that I've hit on with a lot of them going into the offseason. The mental game is tough, man. In between your ears is where most games are won and lost. You’ve got to be able to stay composed out there, and it's obviously something that's plagued us in some of our younger guys, and something they got to work hard to fix.”
Woodward said Howard and pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara are planning to work on his delivery in the offseason, to make it more closely resemble what it was early in his Minor League career. With the Phillies, the right-hander got into the habit of jumping toward the plate and losing power and command.
A lot of Howard’s in-game struggles, he said, come from reverting back to what it was like with Philadelphia.
“What we’re trying to do is just get me more grounded and use the ground better,” Howard said. “It's just been a matter of trying to pound that into my brain, and get that to be my mindless delivery. It's been feeling better and better, especially in bullpens. It's starting to really come along, so it's just been kind of a grind to get that to transfer into games.”
Woodward said that it’s hard to evaluate a season like Howard's, when the Rangers have only worked with him since the Deadline and so much of it has been a delivery overhaul of sorts. What truly matters is how he comes into Spring Training and what the development and execution look like in 2022.
Howard did say he was encouraged by his progress since the trade, even if the numbers aren’t exactly there to show it.
“The results haven't been near what I wanted them to be, which is pretty obvious, but I think there have been glimpses of where I should be at or where I could be at,” Howard said. “I just gotta make that the new normal and keep pushing the bar higher and higher.”