"I already know there are a lot of expectations," Howard said following Friday's 5-0 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. "I know there is unspoken pressure, but my focus is just getting back in the groove of things and helping my team win."
Howard rejoined the Phillies on Friday after spending the entire season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery in October and an infection following the surgery in February, which delayed his return. But Philadelphia's cleanup hitter insisted he doesn't feel any pressure on his shoulders to save a team that is 11 games under .500 for the first time since June 5, 2002.
"No, nothing more than this book bag on my back," he said.
Howard went 2-for-4 with a double in his return, but it didn't translate into a victory. He shouldn't feel alone. The Phillies are 1-8 since Chase Utley rejoined the team.
Mark Howard down at 0-1.
But at least Howard is on the field. The club's first basemen entered the night 18th in baseball with a .733 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Phillies first basemen ranked third with a .911 OPS from 2006-11, when Howard handled the lion's share of games.
Howard doubled in the first, hit into a double play in the fourth, singled in the seventh and grounded out in the eighth.
"It felt good," he said. "The outcome didn't go the way we wanted it. The feeling of being out on the field, the ambience with the fans, it felt good to be back."
Howard displayed a hitch in his gait as he ran the bases.
"Get used to it," he said. "I'll try to make it through the best I can."
Manager Charlie Manuel said he probably would have pinch-run for Howard if he had been on base in the ninth inning and they needed to score a run. Howard understands that, considering how well he is running.
Could he score from second on a single if the situation presented itself? Howard said he could.
"I kind of pick and choose when I'm going to go," Howard said. "Obviously a ground ball to first base or a ground ball to second, if it's a for sure out, it's not that I'm trying to dog it, but I'm not going to necessarily try to kill myself getting down there if it's a for sure [thing]. If it's something that might be close, then you might see some dirt flying. ... The strength isn't all the way there. The Achilles is fine. It's the rest of the foot, but it's constantly getting stronger, day by day, little by little. So it'll take a little while to get all the strength back. I might have a little Kirk Gibson in my run."
The Phillies could use some Gibson-like heroics from Howard right about now. They need it.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.