Ryan Howard said he was happy to be a witness to Chase Utley's first game of the season with the Phillies before Wednesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The first baseman who has missed the entire season after undergoing offseason Achilles surgery will be even happier when he rejoins the second baseman on the right side of the infield.
That scenario is likely to take place at some point next month, but first Howard must go through his own minor-league rehab which will begin Thursday at single-A Lakewood where he will serve as designated hitter.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Howard successfully completed a battery of tests that he needed to perform in order to convince the Phillies' medical team he was ready to begin his rehab. He was also scheduled to be examined by team physician Michael Ciccotti before the game.
"I feel good," Howard said in his first public comments since he started a rehabiliation program down in Clearwater, Fla. in late April. "I've been down in Clearwater just trying to grind it out every day, just trying to get a little stronger, a little bit more comfortable with it and I guess ... now we have a change of scenery. But I feel pretty good."
Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock warned that Howard could look a little awkward exploding out of the box at the beginning of his rehab and possibly even when he rejoins the Phillies.
"I’m not a trainer or a doctor or anything, but from talking to (trainer) Scott (Sheridan), it’s something he has to sort of relearn," Proefrock said. "It may look awkward initially, but it’s something he has to get comfortable with. It’s not something that is an issue with the Achilles or anything. It’s something because of the inactivity, he has to get comfortable with the explosiveness part of it."
Howard conceded that the running part of his game could be a challenge during his rehab assignment and possibly for the remainder of this season.
"My Achilles is fine," he said. "That's a non-factor to me. My biggest thing has been rebuilding the strength in the calf, in the fore foot and all that. There was a little flatness early on running. I was just trying to smooth it out because I had a little bit of a giddyup and what not.
"The biggest thing is because of the strength aspect from a running standpoint, jumping or things like that, it's not goikng to be all the way there yet. Once you get that offseason where you can continue to go (rehab), spring training I think it would be back at 100 percent full tilt. For all the fantasy people, I'm not going to be out there stealing bases this year. It saddens me."
Howard insisted, however, that he has no issues hitting a baseball or with his power.
"Hitting-wise, I don't feel any difference," he said. "I don't feel any difference. It's one of those things I don't even think about. I'm able to get up on the ball of my foot on my swing and on my follow through."