CLEARWATER, Fla. - At the beginning of spring training, the Phillies clubhouse always resembles a crowded bus terminal with players here, players there, players, players everywhere.

Now, only 32 of the lockers are occupied . . . and five of those are taken by injured pitchers who won't be ready when the season starts.

That should make it easier to deduce how the final roster will look when the regular season opens next Monday against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. If the guessing game is limited to only those who are still standing, logic dictates that Ray Olmedo probably won't make it, leaving the final choice between Chris Snelling and Wes Helms.

It's not that simple, though. There are still some knotty decisions to make, leaving the air thick with intrigue.

Among the questions:

There are 11 healthy pitchers remaining and one of them is righthander J.D. Durbin, who is 0-4 with a 12.33 earned run average this spring. Does that mean that the team has decided to carry an extra position player and that Durbin has made the club?

Not necessarily. The Phillies continue to actively look for more pitching. "If it's possible," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday. "But that's been our mantra since October."

Manager Charlie Manuel said no final decisions have been made and noted that the Phillies could open the regular season with 11 pitchers then go to 12 when closer Brad Lidge, who will start the year on the DL, is activated. That could be as early as April 5.

What will become of Helms?

The odds are still against him being in a Phillies uniform when the season starts, barring a last-minute injury to Pedro Feliz.

The Phillies would love to be able to trade Helms. The Giants (for veteran lefthander Steve Kline) and the Reds (for experienced lefty Mike Stanton) are among the teams they are believed to be talking to.

The Giants' need for infield help may have become more acute Monday when Kevin Frandsen tore his Achilles' tendon. But if nothing presents itself, it's not out of the question that Helms simply could be released.

Why did lefthander Travis Blackley mysteriously disappear?

Blackley's locker was cleared out yesterday morning, but no announcement was made on the status of the Rule 5 draft choice. According to sources, he has cleared waivers.

All the Phillies would say is that, if he has cleared waivers, he now has the choice of accepting assignment to their Triple A Lehigh Valley farm team or to Fresno, the Triple A affiliate of the Giants, the team the Phillies selected him from. Or he can choose to become a free agent.

The Phillies hope they can keep Blackley and speculate that the Giants would choose not to keep him if he is offered back to them. "I'd like to see anybody stay who can get outs," Manuel said.

Decision day, no decision

The Phillies had until yesterday to put Kris Benson on the 40-man roster. If they didn't, Benson had the right to opt out of his contract. Ruben Amaro Jr. and Benson's agent, Gregg Clifton, are negotiating a later deadline for the pitcher who is coming back from shoulder surgery but isn't expected to be ready for the big leagues until late May at the earliest.

"I don't see any reason to go elsewhere," Benson said. "It's a win-win situation. I've been happy doing everything I've been doing. If I have to wait a couple weeks [to be put on the roster] it's not a big deal to me. I'm not going to risk [my health] for an extra month or 2. I want to pitch another 5 years and help this team win a world championship, so I'm not that worried about April and May."

Reds 5, Phillies 3

The Phillies fell to 11-15-1 after losing their second straight.

Righthander Kyle Kendrick, the projected No. 4 starter, gave up five runs on 10 hits and three walks in five innings at Bright House Field. He finished the Grapefruit League 1-3 with a 9.68 ERA and will make his final tuneup Sunday against Lehigh Valley.

"Obviously, the numbers say I didn't have a good spring," he said. "But I was working on what I needed to work on. It's different when the lights come on. There's something about it. Not that there isn't adrenaline down here, but it's different."

The Phillies will play the Yankees today at Bright House Field with Brett Myers scheduled to start against Chien-Ming Wang. They'll close out the Florida portion of spring training with a game against the Tigers in Lakeland tomorrow (Adam Eaton vs. Kenny Rogers) then fly home for two games against the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park and one against the Triple A IronPigs on Sunday in Allentown.

Phillers

Righthander Gary Knotts and lefthander Vic Darensbourg have been reassigned to minor league camp . . . Closer Brad Lidge (right knee), who is eligible to come off the disabled list April 5, threw in a Class A minor league game yesterday. . . . Lefthander Mike Zagurski said he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and will probably require Tommy John surgery. "Right now I'm leaning toward surgery," he said yesterday. "They're saying that there's a 10 percent chance of rehabbing it without an operation, but why take the chance?" *