Ryan Howard took live batting practice in extended spring training Wednesday.

Its the first sign off some good news with the big fellow following infections to the area that in turn caused set-backs.  The Phillies haven't put a timetable on his return, but reports have indicated that he could be back sometime in June.

The Phillies could really use his type of production in the middle of their line-up, which has struggled to produce runs in his absence.

The Howard story has been an interesting one.

On Sunday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro defended the club's use of a cortisone shot to treat Ryan Howard's foot last September.

Howard tore his Achilles less than three weeks after receiving the shot.

"I wanted to clear up some of the insinuations regarding a cortisone shot," Amaro saPghiuid. "The cortisone shot was treated for some (other) issue he had. It was not part of the Achilles injury. We didn't feel it was an issue. That was resolved by the time he had his injury. One thing had nothing to do with the other."

If the Phillies can stay around games back of the NL East lead without Howard, his bat could be just what the doctor ordered - if he is fully healthy.

Over to Chase Utley now.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was "encouraged" with what he saw from Chase Utley Thursday, when the second baseman took batting and infield practice.

"I was encouraged with the way the ball was jumping off his bat and how nice he was swinging," Manuel said. "And any time he goes out and takes ground balls, I get encouraged by that."

Phillies reporter Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that Utley's work in the field Thursday was "limited," as he took "fewer than 10 ground balls."  Remember the biggest obstacle at this point for Utley has been playing the field.

Freddy Galvis has been holding down the fort at second base just fine in Utley's absence, but the team will almost surely play Utley right away as soon as he is ready and place him right back in the middle-of-the-line-up.

Which raises the next question for the Phillies - What do you do with Galvis when Utley is ready to return?