Utley, Howard still a ways off...or are they?

Updated: 10:15 p.m.

Despite the caution expressed by the Phillies about their star slugger, Ryan Howard sounded optimistic Friday night that he would be ready to return from his sprained ankle early next week. Howard hit in the batting cage for the second straight day, and after Friday night's loss to the Mets said a return by Tuesday is a definite possibility.

“As long as the swelling can continue to go down, I think I’ll be able to play with the pain or whatever,” Howard said. “When I come off (the DL), we’ll take it day by day and see how it is."

Meanwhile, Chase Utley parted ways with the team after Thursday night's game, flying to Clearwater to continue the rehabilitation program that is expected to get him back in the line-up during the last week of August. The Phillies have said that Utley is simply continuing his workout at the team's spring training facility in Clearwater. And they've maintained throughout the past week that the second baseman is on pace to return sometime in the last week of August. But CSNPhilly.com reported last night that Utley will actually be in the line-up for Class A Clearwater Saturday night.

Everything I've heard has a realistic timetable for Howard's return starting later next week. But Howard seems confident he can be back once his minimum stay on the disabled list expires on Tuesday.

"Over the past three days, the swelling has continually gone down," he said. "So that’s a good thing. It’s still a little bit stiff in the back, but it’s kind of getting worked down. It’s kind of getting the motion and movement and getting comfortable with the tape and all that stuff.”