Howard impressive in BP

Ryan Howard stepped into the batter's box at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- You will read more about Ryan Howard later Wednesday after he talks to the media extensively for the first time since collapsing along the first-base line after grounding out to end the Phillies' 2011 season.

Howard, of course, tore the Achilles' tendon in his left foot in that loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, and he underwent surgery shortly after that. The Phillies say it will be a stretch for him to play during the first month of the season, but they had to be encouraged by what they saw during batting practice Wednesday morning.

In full uniform for the first time since pitchers and catchers and most of the regulars started spring training, Howard stepped into the batter's box around 10:40 a.m. He sprayed the ball to all areas of the outfield and even launched one shot over the right-field wall and another into the grassy berm in left-center field at Bright House Field.

It was an impressive display for a guy just four months removed from a serious surgery. A bigger test will likely come when he has to move laterally at first base and also when he runs the bases, but manager Charlie Manuel has said his All-Star first baseman is ahead of schedule, and now we have seen why he feels that way.

Equally interesting was the amount of time Howard spent chatting with Jim Thome, the man he forced out of town six years ago after winning the National League rookie of the year award. After rejoining the Phillies this offseason, Thome said he looked forward to talking and playing with Howard again. Manuel is convinced that Thome's presence will help Howard and all of the Phillies' hitters.