CLEARWATER, Fla. - After a month of preparation, the Phillies are eager to take the field.

Even if it is against a cast of young amateurs.

The Phillies play host to Florida State tonight at Bright House Networks Field. It is an exhibition game in lieu of the intrasquad game they usually play to springboard into their Grapefruit League season.

Full-squad workouts began Feb. 20, but most of the players in camp have been here since the first week of February, honing their strokes in the batting cages and loosening up their arms on mounds.

Even a week of live batting practice cannot replace the sensation of hitting against a real pitcher bent on getting a hitter out.

"It will be good to face somebody in a different uniform," said centerfielder Aaron Rowand, who, because of a broken ankle, last played Aug. 21. "It's not the same with the cage around you."

Taking it easy

With success and service time comes privilege.

National League MVP Ryan Howard and fellow All-Star Chase Utley will not make tomorrow's trip to Lakeland, where the Phillies open their Grapefruit League season against the American League champion Tigers.Instead, most of the Phillies' notables will be saved for Friday's spring home opener against the Indians.

The only notable veterans making the trip are Jamie Moyer, the Phillies' starter, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Wes Helms. Leftfielder Pat Burrell, centerfielder Aaron Rowand, utility infielder Abraham Nunez and expected starting catcher Rod Barajas will stay behind with Howard and Utley.

So will every reliever expected to be on the roster who has more than 1 year of major league experience. Young lefties Matt Smith and Fabio Castro will travel.

Rightfielder Shane Victorino and projected fourth outfielder Jayson Werth will go, along with second and third catchers Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste.

"I'll come and watch," Howard teased Victorino.

Tick, tick . . .

The ongoing negotiations between Ryan Howard's camp and the Phillies continue to point at a 1-year deal instead of a multiyear contract, as the Phillies indicated would be their preference all offseason.

The first day to renew players is Friday, with a March 11 deadline.

The first day of the renewal period usually is the day on which the Phillies renew players in Howard's situation, said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who is handling the negotiations.

Why? Because the club simply doesn't like to have a cloud of uncertainty lingering as a player begins spring games.

"It's not etched in stone, but I see no reason to change that," Amaro said.

"There's no reason to let it drift past that."

The Phillies have let it be known that Howard's deal should eclipse that of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, whose early career track Howard's most closely resembles.

After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2001 and finishing second to Barry Bonds in MVP voting the next season, Pujols got $900,000 for the 2003 season, his last season before he was eligible for arbitration.

Howard won the Rookie of the Year in 2005, the MVP last season and will be eligible for arbitration after this season.

He earned $355,000 in 2006.

Injury update

Closer Tom Gordon is developing the usual callus that appears on his right middle finger during spring training, though he said it will not affect his schedule.

Meanwhile, righthander Yoel Hernandez, injury magnet, got off easy yesterday. Minor league relievers were the baserunners during a relay-throw drill.

One ball was headed for the back of Hernandez' helmeted head as he rolled into third base.

He instinctively put up his hands to protect his head and the ball hit the back of his right hand.

He left the drill for ice and tape. He hopes to resume throwing today.


First-base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies' new baserunning guru, spent a few minutes before yesterday's workout discussing leads at first base with Pat Burrell . . . The Phillies' work was shortened because of the annual team golf outing. Manager Charlie Manuel secured special instructor and scratch golfer Mike Schmidt for his team, though pitching coach Rich Dubee's squad wasn't bad either, featuring sleeper Cole Hamels. Burrell's quintet wasn't expected to win, but it likely would take home the award for Best Overall Hair: Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and spring training in-game emcee Dan McDonough. *