Lighter and richer, Phillies' Howard ready to rip

February 13, 2009 3:53:00 PM PST
The man with arguably the most lethal power stroke in baseball wielded a wide smile and a lighter frame on Friday. A noticeably trimmer Ryan Howard worked out at the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training facilities at Bright House Field, five days after agreeing to a three-year, $54 million contract. And he was eager to talk about how pleased he was to be in camp early for the defending World Series champions.

"Both sides were happy with it," Howard said. "I thought we were able to get a deal where both sides felt good about it."

The new contract pays Howard $15 million this season, $19 million in 2010 and $20 million in 2011. It also means the Phillies won't be in arbitration with their cleanup hitter the next three years.

Howard, who led the major leagues in home runs (48) and RBI (146) in 2008, didn't have the same smooth offseason a year ago. After the former MVP and the Phillies couldn't come to a contract agreement last winter, the two sides met at the arbitration table. Howard won, earning $10 million for the 2008 season.

The slugging first basemen is happier with this year's agreement because it provides security until he's eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

"I think the biggest thing was trying to get something done as far as ... not having to go to arbitration," Howard said. "The talks were actually very good. Back and forth, pretty quick."

If the two sides had not reached a deal, Howard and Phillies management might have spent Friday inside the conference room of a hotel in Phoenix, where this year's arbitration cases were being heard. Instead, Howard got an early start on batting practice four days before position players are required to report to Clearwater.

"It's a relief you can come in and focus on getting ready for the regular season. I definitely think it's more relaxing," Howard said.

After a lengthy slump that saw his batting average dip as low as .228 in late August, Howard went on a tear that helped him finish second to St. Louis' Albert Pujols in the National League MVP voting.

In September, Howard hit .352 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in 25 games to help the Phillies claim their second straight National League East title. In his past three seasons, he's hit more home runs (153) and driven in more runs (431) than any player in baseball.

Since being called up from the minor leagues in 2005, Howard has been a Rookie of the Year, a National League MVP and a World Series champion.

With a new $54 million contract, too, how does Howard stay hungry?

"I show up in Tampa on January 5 after we won a World Series and drop 20 pounds, come out here and work," said Howard, who said he weighs between 250 and 255 pounds.

Howard said he weighed between 265 and 270 pounds when he reported to camp last February. So while his agent, Casey Close, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. handled the contract talks, Howard began to prepare for 2009 by working out at Saddlebrook, a golf and tennis resort near Tampa.

"I wanted to get to a playing weight and feel good, feel light, feel fast (and) strong and go from there," Howard said. "I definitely feel better. Endurance is better. Everything - my whole body - just feels a lot better."

As baseball's top reigning power hitter, Howard couldn't escape questions on the hottest topic in baseball as spring training begins - Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids from 2001 to 2003.

"It's a tough situation but he did the right thing coming out and admitting it," Howard said. "Now we just need to get it all out in the open, get it over with and move on.

"For me, I know I don't do that stuff. That's just me. I don't do it, won't do it, I have nothing to worry about."

Notes: Entering the last season of a three-year, $24.5 million contract, pitcher Adam Eaton reported to camp Friday. After being left off the postseason roster, Eaton declined to work out in Florida during the first two rounds of the playoffs and was sent home. He didn't attend the World Series championship parade in Philadelphia. "I think if I was invited I probably would have showed up," Eaton said.J.C. Romero also checked into camp for the first time. The reliever received a 50-game suspension last month for failing a drug test after taking a banned dietary supplement Among the other arrivals in camp Friday, a day before pitchers and catchers are required to report: pitchers Brad Lidge, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, Chan Ho Park, Carlos Carrasco and catchers Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino.

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