Phils' Howard 'excited, energized'

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Excited and energized.

They are two words that nobody would use to describe anything related to the 2015 Phillies.

Especially not Ryan Howard, who even began declining requests to talk by the media more frequently the longer the season progressed.

But at the Winter Meetings Monday, those are the exact two words general manager Matt Klentak used to describe Howard heading into next year after meeting with the first baseman for about an hour just before Thanksgiving.

"Everybody was very honest with each other and he seemed genuinely excited and energized looking forward to next year," Klentak said. "I don't know the guy, that's the first time I met him, but boy I sure believed it. … That energized me."

Howard is coming off the first season in his career in which he played 90 games or more and failed to reach at least 95 RBIs. He hit just .229, the third-lowest average he finished a year with in his 12 major league seasons and by the end of the season, he was benched against left-handed pitchers by Phillies manager Pete Mackanin.

The platoon was based largely on his splits — he hit .256 with 27 doubles, 20 home runs and 67 RBIs in 123 games against righties but just .130 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs in 71 games versus lefties. His on-base plus slugging percentage was almost .400 points higher against right-handers.

It doesn't seem like there's much to be excited about coming off of last season. So why is the 36-year-old so upbeat after prematurely ending a less than stellar season Sept. 14 with a knee injury?

"You would probably have to ask him on the specifics," Klentak said. "I can kind of speak for more of the general demeanor or tone of the conversation, which seemed very positive. I think honesty helps a lot. Just laying the cards on the table and talking about the realities of our team and him and everything about him. What he's been through with the Phillies, both good and bad. I think just sort of talking that through on a personal level is refreshing."

It looks like Howard will be back for the final year of his contract — the Phillies will almost certainly take the $10 million buyout for 2017 — so the issue becomes playing time for Howard.

Klentak said, as is the case for each player, their performance will dictate playing time but ultimately Mackanin will be the one that puts together the lineup.

Is Mackanin going to consider a platoon again for the 2006 NL MVP?

"I'm in the process of deciding that," Mackanin said. "I'm probably 50/50 on that. I'm going to see how he looks. I expect him to be in good shape. He's come in in good shape. Right now, I'll wait until after Christmas to start thinking about exactly which way we're going to go. Once again, he and I have discussed his issues with left-handed pitchers. It's going to be part of the conversation."