GM: Ryan Howard nearing return

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard is making progress in his rehabilitation for an Achillies injury, and the Phillies' star first baseman might be in the lineup as early as Friday.

"He's getting close," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday before Philadelphia faced the New York Mets. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday night that Howard likely will bat cleanup Friday night, pending meetings with doctors Friday morning.

Howard has participated in six rehab games with Class A Lakewood and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He was scheduled to play back-to-back games in the field for the first time beginning Thursday night but tweeted after the game: "Excited to be back in Philly tomorrow."

Sidelined since being injured making the final out of the Phillies' season last year -- Game 5 of the NL Division Series against St. Louis -- Howard is hitting .471 (8 for 17) with two doubles, a homer and nine RBIs in the minors.

Despite such a late start to his season, Howard still leads the majors with 262 home runs since 2006. In fact, he's five home runs ahead of Albert Pujols in that category, but has played 77 fewer games than Pujols over that stretch.

The All-Star break shouldn't be a detriment to Howard finding his timing at the plate if he plays in the Phillies' series against Atlanta then rests for four days.

"If he plays this weekend (for the Phillies), it may not be the worst thing for him to get some time off. You just don't know how he'll react and what kind of adrenaline there will be. We'll take it one day at a time with him," Amaro said.

Also, Amaro says Roy Halladay is going to have another bullpen session Saturday after throwing 56 pitches Tuesday.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner has been out since May 28 because of a strained latissimus dorsi muscle on the right side of his back.

Halladay likely will need "some type of rehab," Amaro said. It could be a simulated game rather than pitching for a minor league club, though.

Laynce Nix, meanwhile, made progress in his recovery from a left calf strain. Out since May 11, Nix had a setback two weeks ago but is feeling better, Amaro said. He should go out on a rehab assignment soon after the break.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.