ATLANTA -- The Phillies opened Spring Training in February with Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras in the back of their bullpen.
Only Madson remains.
But the Phillies see light at the end of the tunnel. Contreras, who is on the disabled list with a strained right flexor pronator tendon, threw a bullpen session Sunday at Turner Field, and could begin a rehab assignment in the middle of the week.
"He's making pretty good progress," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Lidge, who is on the DL with a strained right posterior rotator cuff, could throw off a mound when the team returns to Philadelphia this week. Lidge said he remains optimistic he can rejoin the bullpen before the end of June.
"It's frustrating it takes so long," Lidge said. "At the same time I can tell things are working. My shoulder feels really good. I'm going to stick with the program. On my end I'll try to push them, but I'm sure they'll hold me back and be smart. It's tough watching this many games, you want to be out there competing."
Madson is having an All-Star caliber season, which has saved the bullpen. He is 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA and six saves in six opportunities. He has allowed just nine hits, six walks and one run in 16 innings. He has struck out 19.
So what happens when Contreras comes back?
"I'm not sure how things will go," Amaro said. "Charlie [Manuel] will probably go with the guy he feels can do the job that day. That may end up being guys mixing and matching. We may have to wait and see if Contreras is effective enough to drop back into that closer's role. That's a good problem to have if they're both pitching well. I'd rather have it go that way."
And when Lidge returns?
"If all three of those guys come back and pitch like they're closers?" Amaro said. "I'll take it. Who's to say if and when Lidge comes back he can only pitch two days in a row? Who knows what his health is going to be like once he comes back? That would be helpful to have that kind of depth. I wouldn't mind that at all."
Madson is a free agent after the season. Amaro said it is possible they could talk about a contract extension with Madson before the end of the season. But Madson's agent is Scott Boras, and if Madson keeps pitching like he has, Boras almost certainly will recommend that Madson test the open market.
Oswalt on track for Tuesday return
ATLANTA -- Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt threw a bullpen session Saturday in Clearwater, Fla., and is expected to start Tuesday in St. Louis.
Oswalt is on the disabled list with lower back inflammation. He lacked his typical fastball velocity Thursday in a rehab start with Class A Clearwater, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he is not concerned.
"Typically I think there would be [concern], but for a guy like that I think adrenaline means a lot," he said. "No disrespect to the Florida State League, but I just don't know if there's the same juice that you have. But at the same time we'll have to monitor him. If he doesn't have the same velocity and you continue to show that on the mound with us, then I'll have to keep my eye on it. But he doesn't have anything physically wrong with him. He feels fine."
The Phillies will need to make a roster move when Oswalt is activated. The two most likely candidates to be optioned are right-handers Scott Mathieson and Vance Worley.
"He's pitched well in a couple of different roles, but his best role for us is as a starter in case somebody goes down, because we don't have a lot of depth there," Amaro said of Worley. "At some point we'll have to make a decision when Oswalt comes on about what we're going to do with Worley and other guys."
Amaro said recently the organization is better served with Worley continuing to start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Asked if his thinking could change based on Worley's recent effectiveness in the bullpen, Amaro said, "That could change. We haven't made any decisions yet. But as I said, we don't have a whole lot of depth in our rotation. You've got a situation where Oswalt hasn't pitched in a while. We've got [Joe Blanton's] situation with his elbow, where there's some question about it, even though we think he's moving forward. We need starting-pitching depth. [Kyle] Kendrick did a nice job of spot starting, but we need to have as many guys stretched out as we can. That's the strength of our club. I don't want to weaken it."
Utley progressing, no return date set
ATLANTA -- Chase Utley is getting closer to rejoining the Phillies' lineup, but the club is making no predictions on when that will be.
Utley played Sunday with Class A Clearwater in Bradenton, Fla., and went 0-4 with two strikeouts.
Utley has been on the disabled list since the season started because of patellar tendinitis in his right knee.
"Right now, two things need to happen," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He needs to get timing, get at-bats and get a good feel from seeing live pitching. At the same time, he needs to be honest with us and let us know that he's progressing. As long as he's progressing that's good stuff. We do not want to bring him to the big leagues if he doesn't feel comfortable, physically, coming to the big leagues. We don't want to bring him to the big leagues until he's got enough at-bats to be prepared to play."
Amaro would not say if Utley could rejoin the Phillies before the end of the week, but if he is healthy he is expected to be activated before May 30.
Amaro said when Utley returns his knee will have to be managed properly. That might mean not playing every day.
"Shoot, I'd like to have Chase playing every minute of every game, too," Amaro said. "But at the same time, I'd rather have Chase at 100 percent for 80 percent of the games than 60 percent for 100 percent of the games."
Amaro keeping close eye on right field
ATLANTA -- Triple-A Lehigh Valley outfielder Domonic Brown is sidelined with a sprained right thumb, but could begin swinging a bat in the next couple days.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said if Brown does not improve, he will have an MRI.
"He's been feeling better every day since it happened," Amaro said.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel started John Mayberry Jr. in right field Sunday against the Braves at Turner Field. Ben Francisco is hitting .222 with three doubles, one triple, four home runs and 18 RBIs this season. Francisco is fourth on the team in RBIs, but is hitting .071 (2-for-28) in his last 12 games.
"I would like for us to have better production there," Amaro said of right field. "Right now we'll keep going with the guys we've got and hopefully they'll start producing at a more regular rate, but we have to evaluate every day."
But if Brown continues to play well in Triple-A he could get called up sooner rather than later, if the Phillies don't see more production in right.
"He's swinging the bat better," Amaro said. "He's going about his business very professionally. I had a nice talk with [Triple-A manager Ryne] Sandberg and other guys there. He's doing OK. But again, he's a guy who needs reps and needs to play. He hasn't played a lot in the last several months. We have to get him some at-bats and playing time."
Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said his right hamstring remains sore. He injured the leg running to first base Saturday at Turner Field. Victorino said he plans to rest the leg for the next couple days, hopefully rejoining the lineup when the team opens a two-game series Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Victorino both said they do not think Victorino will need to be placed on the disabled list, but that could change. ... Amaro said catcher Brian Schneider, who went on the DL on Friday with a strained left hamstring, could miss close to a month. ... Amaro also said he will continue to monitor right-hander Joe Blanton, who has had a drop in velocity. Blanton recently returned from the disabled list following a medial impingement in his elbow. He still feels some soreness in the elbow. "It seems like he's progressing," Amaro said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.