Since Ryan Howard went on the disabled list, the Phillies are 5-1 without three of their best hitters - Howard, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino.

Imagine what a healthy assortment of players could do.

"We're going to have some of the best September call-ups," backup catcher Brian Schneider quipped.

This is true. The Phillies hope to have Victorino, Howard and Utley healthy before Sept. 1, when the rosters expand. Victorino (left abdominal strain) is the closest to returning; he will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday for triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Howard is off crutches and the swelling in his sprained left ankle has diminished. But he was still walking with a noticeable limp through the clubhouse Sunday and some swelling remains.

"I'm walking," Howard said. "It's a miracle."

Howard can come off the DL on Aug. 17. The first baseman said he is still hoping to return then but it could very well take longer. Howard has done little in the way of baseball activities. He was injured Aug. 1.

"I don't know yet," Howard said when asked of a possible return. "Just taking it day by day."

Victorino said the plan is for him to play five innings Tuesday, seven innings Wednesday, and nine innings Thursday for the IronPigs. Should all go well, he could be activated Friday for the series opener against the Mets in New York.

Victorino is eligible to return from the disabled list Thursday.

If Victorino returns Friday, the Phillies will face an interesting decision in their outfield. Top prospect Domonic Brown has started seven of 11 games since being called up when Victorino was injured. But that playing time would almost certainly go down once the Phillies' normal outfield is entirely healthy.

It's possible the Phillies could send Brown back to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Friday, have him play every day there for two-and-a-half weeks, then recall him on Sept. 1 when the rosters expand.

Or they could find a way to keep him on the 25-man roster while still giving him enough playing time.

Adding a lefty

After Sunday's win over the Mets, the Phillies optioned outfielder John Mayberry Jr. to triple A. The team did not announce a corresponding move and will make one Tuesday following the off day Monday.

Signs point to lefthander Antonio Bastardo being recalled. The lefthander has pitched extremely well since going back to Lehigh Valley in July after a stint on the disabled list. Bastardo has pitched 10 scoreless innings while striking out 13 and walking none.

The Los Angeles Dodgers come to Philadelphia for a three-game set beginning Tuesday and have a lefty-laden lineup. Regulars Andre Ethier, James Loney and Scott Podsednik are all lefthanded. Shortstop Rafael Furcal is a switch-hitter who is much better against righthanded pitching.

The Phillies have only one lefthanded pitcher, J.C. Romero, in the bullpen. In his last two outings, Romero did not retire any of the four batters he faced.

International signing

The Phillies lost a talented prospect when they surrendered single-A Lakewood shortstop Jonathan Villar in the deal with Houston that brought them righthander Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline.

They are hoping they signed another talented shortstop prospect in Anderson Gonzalez, who recently received a $300,000 bonus. That's the largest bonus the Phillies have paid to any of their international signings this year.

"I love his hands, his athleticism and the way he plays the game," said Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting supervisor. "He's built a little bit like [Derek] Jeter. It's a body that he will fill into. The thing I really love is that he can hit. He doesn't have a lot of power, but he's only 16."

Gonzalez is the second Venezuelan shortstop the team has added during the international signing period, which began July 2. They also signed Francisco Silva for $180,000. The Phillies could not sign Gonzalez at the beginning of the international signing period because he was not yet 16 years old. He turned 16 July 25.

Agostinelli said Gonzalez will soon join the Phillies' Venezuelan Summer League team and report to the Florida Instructional League later this year. He will also play in the Venezuelan Parallel League during the winter.

Extra bases

The Phillies have scored five or more runs in an inning 16 times this season. That is tied with Arizona for the most in the majors. . . . With the day off Monday, the Phillies will not skip anyone in the starting rotation. Kyle Kendrick starts Tuesday against Los Angeles and is followed by Oswalt and Joe Blanton. . . . Greg Dobbs pinch-hit in the eighth and grounded into a fielder's choice. Dobbs is hitless in his last 18 at-bats and is batting .079 (3 for 38) as a pinch-hitter this season. . . . Lefthander Cole Hamels has struck out at least 10 batters without a walk in two straight starts, the first Phillies pitcher to accomplish the feat since Curt Schilling in September 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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