<
>

Ryan Howard: Legal battles on drugs, finances take toll

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard says two offseasons of legal battles have taken their toll on him, but trying to focus on baseball has helped him escape the drama of fighting performance-enhancing drug allegations and family financial disputes.

Howard, a former National League MVP and three-time All-Star, said Tuesday that lawyers can deal with his defamation lawsuit against Al-Jazeera America, which said in a documentary that Howard and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman took a human growth hormone. Both players have denied the allegations and filed defamation lawsuits against the network in January.

"With the actions being taken as far as the litigation and all of that kind stuff, I'm just going to leave it at that," Howard said Tuesday at Bright House Field. "Because the process is under way, and I'll let the process take care it itself."

Howard, 36, says he thinks it would be "tough for anybody at anytime" to deal with the allegations and the legal battles.

"It's not necessarily easy to do, but at the same time, it's just trying to maintain that focus," Howard said. "So my focus is just going to be on baseball. The process of the court case, that's over here, that's for the lawyers and stuff to deal with. They come holler at me when they need to come holler at me."

Howard spent last offseason dealing with legal issues as some of his family members sued claiming they were owed millions of his earnings. The matter was settled.

Howard took part in a live-batting practice session on Tuesday morning with his teammates. He worked out in Clearwater for the first time a day earlier, taking ground balls at first base and hitting in the cage at the Phillies spring training ballpark with former manager Charlie Manuel and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt watching from behind the cage.

Howard is one of just two players remaining from the team's 2008 World Series champion roster, along with catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Howard is entering the twilight of his career, in the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract.

The rebuilding Phillies, who have traded away fellow franchise icons Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley in the last two years, will almost certainly exercise the $10 million buyout clause for 2017.

Howard has hit .226 in 282 games over the last two years. In 2015, he batted .229 with 23 home runs and a .277 OBP.

"I still have a job I have to go out there and go do," said Howard, who could platoon with Darin Ruf this season.

"My mindset every year since I've been here, it's whoever is out there on the field that's how you have to go with," he said. "You know, I'll miss Chase, I'll miss Jimmy, I'll miss all of those guys, but you've got to go with what's in front of you."