PHILADELPHIA -- Compared to recent winters in Philadelphia, this winter hasn't felt much like one at all, but Spring Training is still coming.

Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout in just 20 days.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., manager Charlie Manuel and right fielder Hunter Pence shared their thoughts on some of the club's more pressing issues at Monday night's Philadelphia Sports Writers' Association banquet in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Here are some highlights:

Ryan Howard's return?

Manuel said Howard's recovery from left Achilles surgery is ahead of schedule, but Amaro said not to expect the slugger to be ready by Opening Day.

"I think it's more than a reach," said Amaro. "If he's back by sometime in May, I'll be happy."

Manuel could not say who will hit fourth in the lineup while Howard is out, although he mentioned Pence and Chase Utley. Manuel also said John Mayberry Jr. could be his first option to play first base while Howard is recovering. Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix also have played first.

Placido Polanco on track for spring

Amaro said Polanco, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, should be 100 percent or close to 100 percent for Spring Training.

"We'll be cautious with him, but he seems to be doing really well," Amaro said.

Utley's knee issues

"He's doing good. He's feeling well," Amaro said. "We have to keep an eye on his health, and monitor him and make sure we're cautious with how we handle him in Spring Training. Charlie and I have talked about that a little bit to make sure he stays fresh for the season."

Jose Contreras' recovery

"He's throwing from 120 feet," Amaro said of the veteran right-hander, who is coming off right elbow surgery. "No symptoms. He's progressing really well. If he doesn't have any setbacks or anything, I think he'd probably close to ready for Opening Day."

Joe Blanton's prognosis

"I guess you have to consider [Blanton's health] a question mark because he pitched so little last year, but at the same time, he threw at the end of the year last year, and that was a good sign," Amaro said of the right-hander, who missed much of last season with an elbow injury. "We expect him to be in our rotation this year. Hopefully he can get through it in a healthy way."

Pence on avoiding arbitration

"You want to reach a deal in the middle," said Pence, who received a one-year, $10.2 million contract. "You want to be treated fairly, but you also want to get out there and play baseball. You don't want to be in the hearing room. You don't want to be battling over those things. Everything went smoothly. The Phillies treated me great. I couldn't be happier. I'm very grateful."

Improving the offense

Manuel is looking forward to having Thome, Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt in camp to talk to his hitters. There are two Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer right there.

"Why shouldn't we listen to what people have to say?" Manuel said. "Why shouldn't we sit down and discuss hitting every now and then?"

The fifth starter

Amaro said it is Vance Worley's job to lose, although others like Kyle Kendrick and Joel Pineiro will be in the mix.

Pat Burrell's retirement

Don't be surprised to see Burrell, who announced his retirement on Monday, sign a one-day contract and retire with the Phils.

"We are considering it," Amaro said.