Howard to begin rehab stint Thursday

Ryan Howard acknowledges this: He won’t be stealing bases the way he used to.

In other words, the Philadelphia Phillies’ burly slugger thinks he’s the same player he was before tearing his left Achilles’ tendon.

Howard will begin a rehab stint Thursday night, a day after Chase Utley returned to the Phillies’ lineup. The 2006 NL MVP hasn’t played since getting injured on the final swing of the 2011 season in Game 5 of the NL division series against St. Louis.

Howard will serve as the designated hitter for Class A Lakewood. He could return to the Phillies within three weeks.

”Hitting-wise, I don’t feel any difference,” Howard said Wednesday night. ”It’s one of those things I don’t even think about. I’m able to get up on the ball of my foot on my swing, on my follow through. Swing-wise, I don’t feel any difference.

”Speed, we knew I was a blazer out there. For all the fantasy people, I’m not going to be stealing bases this year. It saddens me. But hitting-wise, it’s fine. I’m able to do everything in the box that I need to do in the box. It’s the strength aspect from a running standpoint, either jumping off or something like that. It’s not going to be all the way there yet. Spring training, it will be back at 100 percent.”

Howard has 12 career stolen bases in 1,027 games. He knows he’s paid to hit the long ball, so he jokes about swiping bases. Power could be a problem, though, given the severity of his injury, and the fact he’s rehabbing his back leg, which provides the torque on his swings.

”My swing has been normal,” he said. ”I haven’t toned anything back, or tried to hold anything back from my swing. I’ve been able to get my legs in my swing. During the simulated games and whatever games I was playing in Clearwater, I was able to focus on finding my swing again and just getting my approach back and all of that stuff. As far as getting my legs into my swings, I have been able to let it go and let it do what it does. There was no trying to hold anything back.”

Howard was in the dugout when Utley homered in his first at-bat after missing the first 76 games with a chronic problem in both knees. He had a big smile on his face and was one of the first teammates to greet Utley.

The five-time defending NL East champion Phillies struggled without their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, going 36-40.

They could make a run once Howard and ace Roy Halladay join Utley on the field.