PHILADELPHIA -- The numbers are hard to debate.

There is a belief that all numbers can be manipulated to say just about anything. Unfortunately for the Phillies, the numbers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have posted since they returned from stints on the disabled list are impossible to spin in a positive manner.

"I've been saying it the last few days, that, when you get that much time off, it's hard to find a rhythm," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's like Spring Training for each of them. They need to get at-bats and work their way back."

Since returning from the disabled list with a strained left thumb in which he missed 43 games, Utley has struggled and is hitting .226 (7-for-31) on the club's current homestand.

Howard's struggles have been more pronounced as he has just three hits in his past 20 at-bats and had an 0-for-7 five-strikeout game against Houston on Tuesday night.

"I've seen Utley come back right away and hit," Manuel said. "He can do that.

"Right now, I think for both of them, their timing is off. They have to find their swing. After they do, I think they'll be fine."

Manuel did admit that Utley's swing and the fact that his injury, while certainly problematic for holding the bat, is something the second baseman can overcome. For Howard, the left ankle sprain creates a different problem.

"Yeah, it's his back foot," Manuel said. "Ryan is a big guy. He takes a stride to the ball off his back foot. That's where the push comes from. He has to maintain a strong hitting position, and it can be tough to do that with a bad foot.

"They're both hard workers, and they'll be fine. We need them back. Our bench has been great, but I think everyone knows how important both of them are to our lineup."

Worth noting

Since Aug. 14, the Braves and Phillies have had the same exact results on days they've both had games. Which is why the Braves still hold a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League East.