By Connor Thomas
It’s time to accept it. Contrary to what some of you might think when reading that headline, this isn’t necessarily a knock on Spencer Howard’s ability to pitch at the major league level. Actually, he pitched well in the first 3 innings of each of his last 2 starts. The issue is that each of those starts ended before the 4th inning was over. Howard does have arm talent; it’s not elite strikeout stuff, but he has multiple pitches that can be effective against professional hitters. The issue is that time and time again, Howard is proving to anyone watching that he is simply not built to be a starting pitcher at this level. His arm and body do not seem to have enough in them to last the 6 to 7 to 8 innings that one would expect from an MLB starter, and every time he shows flashes of potential stamina increase, he ends up with some type of setback.
Last night against the Washington Nationals it came by way of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Howard had only pitched 3 innings when it appeared that he was feeling discomfort of some sort. He had a rough 4th and never made it out of the frame, being relieved after giving up 4 runs in the inning. For a normal starter, this would be atypical, but for Howard, this was right on par with how his season has looked so far. Howard has made 7 starts this season for the Phillies and hasn’t made it out of the 4th inning yet. In those starts, he’s averaging a miniscule 3 and 1/3rd innings pitched, which is less than ideal for a starter. Ok, forget that. It’s downright unacceptable for an MLB starter. Whether it’s getting out of breath running the bases, or getting a blister after only 40some pitches, or not having a peanut butter sandwich before the start and getting tired, Howard is just not built to be a starting pitcher in the majors.
The interesting thing is that when you look back at Howard’s path to the majors, he may have never been built for it. Yes, he has had shoulder injuries that certainly play a part in his issues going deeper into games. But when you look at his stats from the minors and amateur ball, there are some interesting trends that point towards a lack of stamina for Howard. Outside of his 13 starts in the majors, Howard made 78 starts for minor league/college/amateur teams. In those 78 starts he has only 1 complete game. It’s the only complete game on record for Howard on baseballreference.com. Complete games aren’t the end all be all, but it appears by his inning averages that Howard has never really been the 7 innings a night guy. Maybe it’s the way the Phillies handled his development, maybe it’s just the limitations of Howard’s ability. Bottom line, Spencer Howard is just not built to be a starter at this level. He could be a great bullpen piece, maybe even a closer at some point. But rolling him out as the starting pitcher is clearly not working, and it’s time for the team to adjust.