He could get the go-ahead tonight to begin an official rehab assignment as soon as tomorrow, which would put him in line to rejoin the Phillies shortly after the All-Star break.
Howard spoke to the media at length regarding his long rehab from left Achilles' surgery. Here is all that he said.
Q: How are you feeling?
Howard: I feel good, I feel good. I’ve been down in Clearwater, just trying to grind it out every day, just trying to get a little stronger, a little bit more comfortable with it and I guess… now we have a change of scenery. But I feel pretty good.
Q: Sounds like you're starting rehab soon. Think you'll be back within a couple weeks?
Howard: I’d like to. But that’s up to the guys upstairs and the front office, with all the evaluations and what not. I mean, it‘ll be up to them depending on how they think it is. But I would like to be able to try to start a rehab assignment hopefully tomorrow or fairly near future and try to work my way back.
Q: Assistant GM Scott Proefrock said you’re going to have to re-learn running. What does that entail?
Howard: My Achilles is fine. That’s a non-factor to me. My biggest thing has been rebuilding the strength in the calf, in the fore foot and all of that. There was a little flatness early on running, I was just trying to smooth it out, because I had a little bit of a hitch in the giddyup and what not. There might still be a little bit there, but that’s to be expected. Just getting to the point in where I’m confident and comfortable running, even with that hitch, it’ll eventually work itself out. You do have to go through that entire process of getting confident that the strength is there and that there’s more strength coming in the future.
Q: Mental hurdle too? I imagine first couple of steps were biggest issue?
Howard: Initially the first couple of steps were always an issue. As of late it’s gotten a lot better. It’s not going to be Olympic-time trail type speed, I know you guys are going to be real disappointed with that, but whatever I got is what I’m going to give. It’s definitely gotten better with all the progressions and I’m happy with where it is right now.
Q: Can you still drive ball?
Howard: Hitting-wise I don’t feel any difference. It’s one of those things I don’t even think about. I’m able to get up on the ball of my foot on my swing, on my follow through. Swing-wise, it doesn’t feel… I don’t feel any difference. So to me, that’s a non-factor.
Q: Building strength in calf, in left leg, where’s that at?
Howard: I think there’s still a little bit to go. Not an overly large amount, but there’s still a ways to go to where I’d feel like I was truly 100 percent. But like I said, today I ran a little bit and I felt pretty good.
Q: When do you feel like you’ll be truly 100 percent?
Howard: me honestly, who knows. Maybe not until next year. But you know, if it’s 80, 85 percent, the only thing I can do is give you 100 percent of 85 percent.
Q: What was tougher: to come out of the box, or moving laterally?
Howard: Originally it was tougher getting out of the box. The lateral movement, that really never bothered me that much. But now, getting out of the box, it’s gotten a lot better than what it was. We really worked hard in Clearwater working on that, trying to build up that strength.
Q: People here worry about home runs. Have you let it go… with your swing?
Howard: Yeah, my swing has been normal. I haven’t toned anything back, or tried ot hold anything back form my swing. I’ve been able to get my legs in my swing. During the simulated games and whatever games i was playing in Clearwater, I was able to focus on finding my swing again and just getting my approach back and all of that stuff. As far as getting my legs into my swings, I have been able to let it go and let it do what it does. There was no trying to hold anything back.
Q: This has taken a while. Did you learn to appreciate the game more?
Howard: Most definitely. There are times when you get caught up in the routine of playing every single day, then you get your off-season. It’s kind of like you are on borrowed time, then you are taking a little time off and you are back in the weight room and picking a bat back up. This was probably the first year that I didn’t pick a bat up until the first week of February — I would normally pick a bat up in November. It’s allowed me to focus on figuring out a new plan for myself mentally and physically, trying to get my body into shape and getting to attack the baseball end of things.
Q: Do you have a return date in mind?
Howard: Not really. I think now, its going to be getting into game type situations, running the bases, playing defense, just being in baseball situations- it shouldn’t take that long and playing the game — that’s the benefit of playing 162, you known when you are ready for those things. Having played in rehab games, being able to get a gauge for the speed of the game, that will be the biggest thing.
Q: How long has it taken you to get back into baseball shape in past injuries?
Howard: This injury, as opposed to the sprained ankle, it was different. This has carried on through the season and the ankle happened during the season. I had played game and a gauge for the speed of the game. I was already in game shape. This is brand new that when you miss half a season, you miss spring training, you are trying to pick up and treating these games as somewhat of a motified spring training to get my timing and situations under my belt. Then, you just go from there.
Q: Given best and worst case scenarios, how do you think this rehab has gone?
Howard: I mean, you want to be back as early as you possibly could while making sure that everything was in place, that my foot was healed and it was strong. But I mean, we had the infection and the tough part about it was getting it to close. I could have been back a lot sooner, but the infection didn’t close and we didn’t want to have any more setbacks. Now, its closed and its just trying to move forward.
Q: You said 80 percent this year. How is speed, mobility, power?
Howard: Speed- we knew I was a blazer out there. For all the fantasy people, I’m not going to be stealing bases this year. It saddens me. But hitting wise, its fine. I’m able to do everything in the box that I need to do in the box. It’s the strength aspect from a running standpoint- either jumping off or something like that. Its not going to be all the way there yet. Spring training, it will be back at 100 percent.
Q: Utley is back today. Feel like you're getting the band back together?
Howard: “I’m excited for it. I’m excited to be here to be able to watch Chase come back tonight, number one. And I’m excited whenever they release me to go on my rehab. At the same time, I know what it’s going to take for me on my rehab. What I need to do in getting myself prepared and getting myself comfortable out on that field before I can come back and play.”
Q: Are you happy with your physical shape?
Howard: “Yeah, I’m good with it right now. Being down in Florida, it’s kind of hot, so every day we’re at the complex doing groundballs or hitting, it’s all conditioning in itself. Then I was going over to the place where I normally train … in the mornings, five in the morning or whatever, and get my lifts in there and then I would go do my other stuff at the complex. I was doing kind of two-a-days, so I mean I feel like I’m in good shape.”