CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies fans are on edge these days because of the uncertainties and mysteries surrounding the health of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Wednesday didn't help.

FOXSports.com quoted two scouts who expressed concern about Roy Halladay's lack of velocity and sharpness in Grapefruit League games. The story never said Halladay was injured or might have arm problems, but implied something might be amiss when being mentioned alongside Howard, who is recovering from an infection near his left Achilles, and Utley, who has not played in a Spring Training game because of a chronic right knee condition.

Asked what he would he say about any speculation he might have a health issue, Halladay said, "Yeah, I heard about that. Poor reporting on the extreme end of poor reporting. It couldn't be further from the truth."

Of course, Halladay, who has a 10.57 ERA after three spring appearances, acknowledged his velocity is down.

"Yeah, I'm 34 and [have thrown] 2,500 innings, it does take a while to get going," he said. "I don't pay attention to that. The older you get, the more you throw, the longer it takes you to get yourself going. When I came up, I threw 98 [mph]. Last year, I was throwing 92-93. It's not unusual. When you get older, it takes you longer. The more innings you throw, the more it takes to get yourself going again.

"I think it's hard, the older you get and the more Spring Trainings you're around, you can try and have as much intensity as you can, but it's just not the same. I think once you get closer and you're really not working on stuff and you're trying to pitch, it's a little different level of competition. It's all part of it. Would I like to be throwing 98 right now? Yeah. That would be great. But I don't expect that's going to happen."

Asked how concerned he is about Halladay, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "Zero. Absolutely zero."

Howard won't start rehab from scratch

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard said Wednesday he did not believe he would need to start his rehab from scratch once the protective boot is removed from his left foot.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. concurred.

"One of the residual positive effects was that we know the Achilles has healed," Amaro said. "Now it's just a matter of getting his strength." Howard suffered a setback last month when he got an infection near his left Achilles. He required surgery Feb. 27 to remove sutures that had not properly dissolved. Howard has been in the boot since the surgery, because they need the new wound to heal before he can resume baseball activities.

"He may not be starting at the same spot he was before, clearly, but he's certainly not starting from Ground Zero," Amaro said.

Now what that means regarding Howard's eventual return remains to be seen. The Phillies had hoped in a best-case scenario he could be back in the lineup before June 1. That timetable seems to be pushed back, but nobody is saying.

Willis returns to action with better tempo

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Left-hander Dontrelle Willis worked a scoreless inning Thursday in a 6-4 victory over the Braves at Bright House Field.

Willis had not pitched since last week because of soreness in his left arm. He walked the leadoff batter, but got a flyout and a double play to end the inning.

Willis said he felt better Thursday because he got some tips from fellow relievers about properly warming up in the bullpen. Willis said he warmed up too quickly in his first two appearances, leaving too little left in the tank when he stepped onto the mound.

"I definitely warmed up a lot better with the tempo," he said. "I slowed myself down."

Willis, who is in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, needs to continue to pitch well to make the roster as the team's second left-hander in the bullpen.

Said manager Charlie Manuel: "He walked a guy and rebounded from it. Command is his biggest thing. He has enough motion and stuff to be tough on lefties."

Worth noting

• Right-hander Joe Blanton allowed four hits and three runs and struck out four in five innings on Thursday. He knows he has been the target of trade speculation this spring. "It's part of the business," he said. "I guess it's better than being overlooked."

• Right-hander Jose Contreras threw one inning in a Minor League Spring Training game Thursday afternoon at Carpenter Complex. The Phillies reliever said he felt stronger than his first appearance earlier this week. He also said he expects to be ready by Opening Day.

• The Phillies scratched Laynce Nix from Thursday's lineup against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., because of sore left ribs. It is not believed to be serious. They also scratched Domonic Brown because of a stiff neck.

• Jim Thome is scheduled to play first base in a Minor League Spring Training game at Carpenter Complex.