The Rocky, Yet Promising Debut of Spencer Howard

By Greg Hall, Sports Talk Philly editor

One start does not a career make.

The same is true regardless of outcome.

Spencer Howard made his much-anticipated big-league debut Sunday against the Atlanta Braves and, against one of baseball's best offenses, showed signs of the ace he could become, but had mixed results.

"I was hoping for a complete-game shutout," Howard said in a post-game video conference. "That's what everybody would dream about. But just being able to compete at the highest level again, a dream come true. It's just exciting to be out there and face an All-Star lineup."

He finished 4 2/3 innings, throwing 81 total pitches, 51 for strikes. He threw a first pitch strike to 77 percent of the hitters he faced. His fastball averaged 93.5 mph and his secondary pitches, while inconsistent, showed they belong in the majors.

The problem with throwing so many first pitch strikes is the adjustment the Braves lineup made in their second trips to the plate. Superstars 1B Freddie Freeman and OF Ronald Acuna Jr. did what they do best… just crush the Phillies. Each hit opposite-field home runs off Howard, although, according to Baseball Savant, no balls were "barreled." He did give up some hard hit balls throughout the outing, however.

Braves hitters swung at Howard's first pitch 59 percent of the time, so as Howard kept pounding the strike zone, the Braves kept making contact. In fact, they made contact at an 82 percent clip when swinging at balls in the strike zone.

Hat tip to the Braves advanced scouting department, coaching staff and overall plate discipline; of the 42 fastballs Howard threw (51.9 percent), he generated zero swings and misses…and there were no dented trash cans lying around.

However, there was nothing to really deter the Phillies faithful from believing Howard can, and will, live up to the lofty potential he has rightfully earned.

Both his fastball and curveball had incredible movement, including nine inches (!!) of vertical break on the curve. Even with the first start jitters, it is a true 12-6 curveball that will baffle hitters for years to come.

He also escaped trouble after letting the first two hitters of his career reach base. In the first inning, Acuna Jr. hit a single and SS Dansby Swanson drew a walk. Howard then retired the next three in order to escape the jam, albeit with the help of some solid defense. Baseball is a team sport, after all.

Manager Joe Girardi took notice.

"Spencer, for his first start, I thought he did pretty good," Girardi said. "He was able to throw strikes. The first two guys get on and he's able to not give up a run. He didn't fall apart, which sometimes it's tough to slow a young person's mind down when it's their first start or first year. I thought he handled it pretty well."

Wherever Howard fits into the Phillies plans for the rest of the 2020 season, he is sure to continue his development as a major contributor to the team's success.

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