The Big Piece sounded more like the Big Aristotle. Or, rather, the Big Tony Robbins.

An energetic and optimistic Ryan Howard labeled himself back to normal after a year spent battling the effects of Achilles surgery, and he labeled the Phillies a contender that is being unduly downgraded by the public.

"First, I want to address this 'old' thing, because that's all I keep hearing," Howard said late Thursday morning. "People keep talking about older, and older and older. There's a guy in this league in Jamie Moyer, who I'm sure people told him he was old and this and that, but Jamie Moyer would go out every year and show people that he can play and get it done. I don't buy into the whole old thing. It's about how young you feel inside. It's all about how well you take care of yourself.

"Everybody in this clubhouse goes out and works their butt off. Everybody goes in the offseason and we train and we do what we need to do. If people want to call us old, that's fine, but I think going out there this year we're going to show people that we're not old. As far as the Nationals and the other teams in the division, it's going to be a great division, it's going to be a fun division to watch. They had a great year last year, but once again, we had a lot of injuries.

"So call us old if you want to, that's fine if you want to sweep us under the rug, just don't be surprised. Don't be surprised."

Howard said that last season he was essentially playing on one leg because he had not redeveloped the muscles in the left leg that was operated on and immobilized after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles in October of 2011. This year, he says those muscles are back, and the mental block that is often associated with traumatic injuries is gone.

"It's one of those things where you just weren't 100 percent confident in it," he said. "You can't do all the things that you would normally do. Sometimes you might try to make a cut or do something that you would normally do and you might feel something. Yeah, there's always going to be that little bit of fear in that back of your mind that you might rupture it again or what not, but now it's not even a second thought in my mind."

Howard missed the first three months of last season, then struggled when he returned.

"You don't realize how important spring training is until you don't have one," he said. "Being able to be here, create the chemistry with my teammates, just being healthy, just being ready to go."

Howard was particularly bad against lefties, hitting just .173 against them. He said he is focused on improving his performance in those situations, and believes he has the ability to hit lefties like he did in 2006, when his average was over .270 and his OPS over .900 against southpaws.

"I think (the problem is) a combination of listening to the noise, trying to please people, trying to go out there and people saying, oh, he can't hit lefties, I have to show them that I can hit lefties," Howard said. "Obviously, to get to the big leagues you have to hit lefties and righties. Like I said, putting all that aside and trusting in my ability. I know I can hit lefties, it's just a matter of going up there, being relaxed, having good ABs, getting good pitches and putting good swings on them."

Howard said his surgically-repaired leg is a non-issue.

"I want to go out and play 162 games and every game in the playoffs and the World Series," he said.

Is that realistic?

"Yeah, why not," he said. "That's what the offseason is for. That's why I train. That's why I do what I do, to go out there and try to play 162. I'm not the kind of guy who just wants to come out here and play 150 games and be cool with that."