Howard could return to lineup on Thursday

Howard could return to lineup on Thursday

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard could be back in the Phillies' lineup as early as Thursday in New York.

He has not played since Friday because of swelling in his left knee. He had the knee drained over the weekend and he could have started Tuesday night in the series opener against the White Sox at Citizens Bank Park, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin already had made out the lineup before he learned of Howard's improvement.

"He says he feels great," Mackanin said. "He won't play tomorrow against [Chris] Sale. I'll play him in New York and Atlanta as much as I can, and then the last three days of the season [at home]. He's available to pinch-hit and obviously to play, but I wouldn't want it to blow up. That wouldn't be helpful to us or him."

Howard is entering the final days of his Phillies career. The organization has a $23 million club option for 2017, but they will take a $10 million buyout instead. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said while the team will not make any official announcements before the end of the season, the organization plans to honor him in the season's final weekend at home.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.