TAKEN LITERALLY, "day-to-day" status has a bit of a hopeful ring. It is the glass-is-half-full of rehabilitative prognoses, suggesting that what is gone one moment might, perhaps, be present the next.

Officially, Kris Benson has been labeled day-to-day for the better part of 2 months. But, in reality, his status has been more setback-to-setback.

That might have changed yesterday, though, as Benson took perhaps his most significant step forward since signing a minor league contract with the Phillies in February.

After he threw 75 pitches in an extended spring training game in Clearwater, Fla., the Phillies felt confident enough to announce that Benson would, in all likelihood, make his first minor league start Sunday for Class A Clearwater.

"It was encouraging for him, and it was encouraging for us," said Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies assistant general manager who generally comments on health-related issues.

Yesterday, Benson allowed one run on three hits and struck out four while walking one in four innings. More encouraging was the velocity on his fastball. Previously, it had been topping out at 88 mph, but yesterday it got up to 90.

Assuming Benson doesn't feel any ill effects from yesterday's appearance, he will throw about 75 pitches Sunday.

As for when Benson might be ready to compete for a spot in the Phillies' rotation, Amaro said it depends on how he progresses.

The Phillies initially thought he would be ready to join the big-league club during May. But he suffered biceps tendinitis late in spring training, and later strained his groin during an extended spring training game, both of which pushed back his recovery from 2007 shoulder surgery.

When the Phillies and Benson reworked his original minor league deal, they included a clause in the contract that allows him to opt out on June 1, which, incidentally, is Sunday.

Attempts to reach Benson's agent, Gregg Clifton, were unsuccessful, but Benson said repeatedly during spring training that he was happy with the Phillies.

Burrell scratched

Pat Burrell has three home runs in his last 15 at-bats, but a stiff neck put his five-game hot streak on hold. The leftfielder was scratched from the lineup about 30 minutes before game time, leading Charlie Manuel to put utility man Greg Dobbs in left. Dobbs, usually a third baseman, had played left once this season, and started 10 games there last year.

"[Burrell] got it worked on before the game," Manuel said, "but it was still bothering him."

The injury isn't believed to be significant and Burrell could play tonight.

The catcher rotation

Manuel didn't get too specific when questioned about his philosophy for deciding playing time at catcher, but it appears he is going to continue to take it day-by-day. Chris Coste went 3-for-6 with a home run and four RBI on Monday in the Phillies' 20-5 win over the Rockies and entered last night hitting .424 in his last 10 games, but Carlos Ruiz got the start.

Though Coste is hot, Ruiz has also been swinging better lately. After hitting just .206 in April, Ruiz entered last night hitting .300 in May to raise his season average to .246. Nevertheless, you probably won't have to wait long before you see Coste back in the lineup.

"I wanted to play 'Chooch' [last night] and more than likely I'll play Coste [tonight]," Manuel said.

The duo's playing time has evened out since the start of the season. Ruiz started 19 games in March and April, compared with only nine for Coste. This month, Ruiz has 14 starts, Coste has 12.

A Rockie return

With leading hitter Clint Barmes (.343, 20 RBI), slugger Matt Holliday (.321, eight home runs, 26 RBI) and 2007 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Troy Tulowitzki sidelined, the Rockies are a shell of the team that cruised to the World Series last season. But they received a boost yesterday when third baseman Garrett Atkins returned to the lineup. Atkins, a college roommate of Chase Utley at UCLA, was hitting .338 and leading the team with 30 RBI. His eight homers also tied for the team lead with Holliday, who was placed on the 15-day DL Sunday with a strained hamstring.

Phillers

The Phillies have scored 42 runs over their last three games, the most over a three-game span since July 1-3, 1999 . . . The Phillies are 7-1 in Kyle Kendrick's last eight starts . . . Jimmy Rollins has 22 consecutive stolen bases without being caught dating back to Aug. 31 of last season. *