Ryan Howard has decided not to participate in the World Baseball Classic. The Phillies slugger informed Team USA manager Davey Johnson of his decision yesterday.

"He feels like he needs to spend his time in the spring getting ready for the season so he gets off to a better start," Johnson said.

Howard started slowly during the last two regular seasons but that didn't stop him from finishing fifth and second in National League MVP voting in 2007 and 2008, respectively. He won the award in 2006.

"We'll miss him," Johnson said. "We would have liked to have had his bat in the middle of our order."

Earlier, Phillies pitchers Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge pulled themselves out of consideration for Team USA. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is a lock to make the team, according to Johnson.

"I told Ryan that this means Jimmy will have to carry a bigger load," Johnson said with a laugh.

The 16-team tournament begins March 5 with the finals scheduled for March 23 at Dodger Stadium.

Preliminary 45-man rosters will be announced Jan. 19. Final 28-man rosters will be announced on Feb. 24.

Team USA will train at the Phillies complex in Clearwater, Fla., on March 2 and play an exhibition game against the Phils at Bright House Field on March 5. The Phils will host the Canadian team on March 4.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com