The Big Piece is back, but only part of him.
Yes, Ryan Howard made his 2012 debut last night, going two for four and running the bases like a guy who ruptured his Achilles heel ten months ago. For weeks various pundits and blog commentators have argued Howard's presence in the middle of the Phils' lineup would make the hitters around him more dangerous and opposing pitchers more fearful.
So, naturally, he returns and watches his team play exactly as they have throughout his absence: meager offense following by pitiful relief pitching. The Phils dropped a 5-0 game to Atlanta to fall elven games under .500.
When Antonio Bastardo walked in the games first run in the 8th inning and Brian McCann, President and Chief Poo-bah of the Phillies-Killer Society, walked up to the plate, I said to myself: this is going to be a grand salami. Bingo! Game over; night over; any drama associated with Howard's comeback over.
Meanwhile, Chase Utley is now hitting .269. He might see a few better pitches per game with Howard behind him, but since both of these guys will be getting spot starts much if not all of the remainder of the season, I don't see much improvement in Utley's performance. Indeed, he is hitting at the pace he's established the last few declining years.
While I watched Howard still hobbling around the base paths I wondered why exactly did the Phils alleged brain trust bring him back now and why have him debut on a night on which the temperature on the field was probably 95 or more? Are these wunderkind seriously thinking this miserable season can still be saved?