CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard is scheduled to meet with reporters Wednesday, when he will be asked about his recovery from left Achilles surgery.

The most important question: When will he be back in the Phillies' lineup?

"He's a little bit ahead of where they predicted," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday. "When I look at it, I want to make sure he's healthy and ready to go and that he doesn't have any setbacks. I think talking to him and the doctors and trainers, I think it's a reach to say he's going to start the season, but I don't see him missing a whole lot of time. I can't pin it down. Is he going to miss some time? I'd say more than likely. But how much? I don't think it's going to be a significant amount of time."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said previously he is hopeful Howard could be back sometime in May. In the meantime, Manuel has Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix available to play first base.

Phillies scale back Utley's spring workload

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Much has been made about the Phillies offense over the last several months.

Can they hit more consistently? Can they produce in the postseason?

It would help tremendously if Chase Utley played like his former self. But after battling knee problems last year, he had the most disappointing season of his career, hitting .259 with 11 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .769 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The Phillies are hopeful a modified offseason training program will allow Utley to keep the lower half of his body strong, which could help bring back his power.

They also plan to cut back his Spring Training work to keep him as fresh as possible during the six-month regular-season schedule.

"He says right now he feels fine, he feels OK," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday at Bright House Field. "At the same time, our plans for him aren't to take him out there and let him take off and do a big strenuous workout. I think we have time to slowly let him go his pace, cut [back] his ground balls as he progresses and we feel like he's fine and he's got his strength, and that's when he'll tune it up and play more.

"The first [part] of Spring Training, don't look for him to play a whole lot, because we'll definitely monitor him and kind of ease him into it. I think that's very important."

Amaro: 'Surprised' Oswalt remains unsigned

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A year ago, the Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton hold an introductory news conference at Bright House Field.

Oswalt is the only one of the five not in camp this spring. In fact, he remains unsigned, somewhat surprising considering his pedigree.

"Obviously he feels what the market is dictating is not what he'd like to sign for, but I am surprised," Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Blanton agreed.

"He's been a great pitcher for a long time," Blanton said. "He had a decent year last year. Not to his standards, but probably for the average starter in the league, he had a good year. A guy with that much experience and done as well as he has, it's surprising.

Phillies optimistic about Contreras' progress

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jose Contreras smiled easily Sunday.

Contreras missed most of last season with an injured right elbow that required surgery. But Contreras said Sunday he expects to begin throwing off a mound sometime this week, and thinks there is a good chance he will be ready by Opening Day.

"He's coming along great so far, and we'll see where he goes with it," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said.

Worth noting

Right-hander Chad Qualls is the only pitcher not in camp. He has been excused for personal reasons, and is expected to join the team Tuesday. ... Right-hander Justin De Fratus is a bit behind schedule because of some tightness in his right elbow, which he felt last month. De Fratus said he is not concerned and expects to be ready by Opening Day. ... Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said while left-hander Dontrelle Willis has started most of his career, he will be groomed as a relief pitcher this spring, as expected.