Howard swings, takes grounders

Ryan Howard fielded ground balls and took swings for the first time since injuring his ankle. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff file photo)

Under dark skies, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley took the field at Citizens Bank Park.

OK, so it was hours before Thursday's game against the Dodgers, but it's a step in the right direction for the Phillies.

Howard took grounders at first base for the first time since spraining his left ankle Aug. 1 in Washington. He still moved with a slight limp. Later, Howard took swings in the indoor batting cage.

"I feel all right," Howard said.

The first baseman has long targeted Aug. 17 -- the first day he can come off the disabled list -- as his return date. That remains a possibility, but it could take longer.

Some swelling still remains in the ankle.

"He's doing real well," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's coming along really good. It's just a matter of time."

Utley was cleared to begin hitting and do normal throwing Wednesday by the doctor who performed right thumb surgery July 1. He remains on target for a return late this month or early September.