CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard returned to the mound Wednesday morning, throwing his first bullpen session since he tweaked his right knee earlier this month.

Howard, regarded as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, threw 27 pitches on the back fields of the Carpenter Complex. The Phillies restricted his throwing after he was injured during a broad-jumping exercise just before camp started. Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was never concerned about the injury and said he simply “landed funny." The MRI results were clear.

“He felt great. That’s the important thing,” manager Joe Girardi said. “All encouraging. We’re not really concerned. But we’re slowing him down a little bit. He threw ... until November of last year.”

The Phillies, Girardi said, “will not waste a lot of innings in spring training” as they will tread lightly with Howard this spring to ensure that he is able to be used later in the season if they are in the playoff hunt. His injury scare gave the team a natural reason to back off him.

Howard, a second-round draft pick in 2017, will start the season in the minor leagues and be on an innings limit after logging just 99 1/3 innings in 2019 due to a shoulder injury. He made six regular-season starts at double-A Reading, where he posted a 2.35 ERA and struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings. The Phillies begin spring training with questions in their starting rotation, and Howard will be their top in-season option if a need arises.

“We need to make sure he has enough innings and pitches remaining in his season to help us down the stretch. So every pitch he throws in February is a pitch he’s not going to be able to throw in September. Every pitch he throws in March is a pitch he’s not going to be able to throw in September,” general manager Matt Klentak said last week.

“ … We are going to be very slow with Spencer on purpose. It’s not because something is wrong, and it’s not because we don’t like him. It’s because we like him a lot and I think he has a very bright future for us and we need to set him up for success to pitch deep into the season this year.”

Extra bases

Nick Martini cleared waivers and returned to spring training as a nonroster invitee. The outfielder was designated for assignment last week to clear room for outfielder Kyle Garlick, who was acquired in a trade with the Dodgers. Both will compete for bench roles. The Phillies now have 71 players in camp. … Jake Arrieta looked crisp throwing live batting practice to a group that included Bryce Harper. … The Phillies will begin Grapefruit League play Saturday in Lakeland against the Tigers. Nick Pivetta will start against Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.