Notes: Howard returns to Philly

Notes: Howard returns to Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- The last time Ryan Howard was in a Phillies uniform at Citizens Bank Park, he was taking ground ball practice with Phils third base coach Steve Smith on May 20, testing the strained left quadriceps before being activated on Friday in Atlanta.

Phillies coaches Ramon Henderson and Milt Thompson happened to be giving a hitting clinic that sun-drenched May 20 Sunday morning to young kids, who were walking by Howard in front of the Phillies dugout, all looking at the reigning National League MVP in amazement.

The big guy made sure he took the time to smile and wave to the star-struck kids. After the 45-minute workout, Howard came down the dugout steps, beads of sweat dotting his forehead, and said: "It was great seeing the kids here. I just wish I can do it for real in front of them."

Against Arizona Monday night, Howard played for real at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since April 29, when Howard went 1-for-4 in a 6-1 victory over Florida, scoring a run and striking out twice.

Howard had dipped this year after an amazing 2006 season, when he hit .313 with 58 homers and 149 RBIs. He was batting just .204 with six homers and 23 RBIs when he returned from the DL.

Howard is hitting .220, but at Citizens Bank Park this season, he is hitting .233 (10-for-43), with one home run, four runs and four RBIs. In 2006, he hit .309 (87-for-282) at Citizens Bank Park and 29 homers, exactly half of his club-record 58 homers.

Howard's pair of homers on Sunday in the Phillies 13-6 victory over the Braves were his first since he hit a grand slam in a 9-3 victory against Arizona right-hander Brandon Medders on May 9. Howard was placed on the DL the next day. It was also the slugger's first two-homer game this season. Howard's last multi-home run game came Sept. 8, in a 3-2 victory over Florida. This season, he is 1-for-3 against Diamondbacks pitching -- with the one hit being the grand slam.

Gordon cleared: Phillies team Dr. Michael Ciccotti saw Phils reliever Tom Gordon Monday and determined Gordon can begin a tossing program on Tuesday.

Gordon was placed on the disabled list May 4 (retroactive to May 2) with a right rotator cuff strain. He is currently working out at the Phillies Clearwater, Fla., Minor League complex.

Nunez producing: Phils manager Charlie Manuel opted to use Abraham Nunez in the starting lineup again on Monday night against the Diamondbacks. Nunez has gone .366 (26-for-71) since April 28, when he went 2-for-4 in an 11-5 Phillies loss to Florida. Prior to that game, he had been off to a rather slow start, hitting .125 (3-for-24). He's also been playing well at third base, where he's started 25 games this season to Wes Helms' 23 starts at third.

"Guys produce, they play," Manuel said about Nunez. "He's getting the job done. I like competition among players. The more competition, I think, the better you produce. We're not using Nunez every game, but he prepares to play for us every day. The last few years, he's been hitting the ball harder and better for average."

Utley hot: Looks like Chase Utley took in what Phils Manuel told the club, when the Phils skipper addressed the team in Cincinnati, during a time when the Phillies were struggling at 4-11. After the chat, the Phillies have gone 22-13.

Falling right in line is Utley. Over those last 35 games, he has gone on a torrid pace. Since April 20, Utley is hitting .328 (45-for-137), with 13 doubles, a triple and seven homers. He's also knocked in 35 runs and scored 28 runs.

Utley leads National League second baseman in doubles (21), RBIs (41), slugging percentage (.545) and total bases (106). He's tied for the NL lead among second baseman in homers (9) and second in hits (57) and average (.291).

Coming up: Jon Lieber will go for the Phils in the second game of this six-game homestand on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Lieber will face Diamondbacks right-hander Micah Owings.

Lieber is 2-2 this season with a 3.45 ERA, but is 6-7 with a 3.41 ERA lifetime against Arizona. Lieber was knocked around in his last start, giving up four runs in five innings in a 5-4 loss to Florida on Thursday.

Owings is coming off the best start of his brief Major League career on Thursday, when he threw a complete-game victory in a 9-1 win over Houston. Owings' nine-hit, eight-strikeout performance enabled his ERA to plummet from 23.62 to 4.10.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.