CLEARWATER, Fla. - It is looking more and more like the 25 players who will represent the Phillies on Opening Day are already here at spring training. A team source said yesterday the club is not overly optimistic about the potential of landing free-agent infielder Nomar Garciaparra, whom they have reached out to several times over the course of the offseason. Reports out of Oakland had the A's interested in the righthanded-hitting veteran, although Garciaparra continues to mull retirement.

Any player the Phillies add over the next few weeks would have to come at a bargain price. Although the team still has interest in Garciaparra and believes it has a chance at landing him, the introduction of Oakland into the mix has somewhat dampened expectations.

The team views Garciaparra as the ideal fit for the righthanded-hitting bench role it is looking to fill. Garciaparra hit .339 with four home runs in just 56 at-bats against lefthanded pitching last season. He also played 11 games at third base, where the Phillies could be without starter Pedro Feliz for a short time at the start of the season.

Garciaparra has played just one game at second base during his career, which would seem to eliminate him as a possibility to fill in for Chase Utley should his hip rehab stretch into the season.

The Phillies also continue to monitor the various veteran lefthanders who remain on the open market. Dennys Reyes (Twins), Will Ohman (Braves) and Joe Beimel (Dodgers) are among those available, but all would have to reduce their asking price for the Phillies to fit them onto their payroll, which is already expected to exceed $132 million.

Hamels OK

Cole Hamels' absence from spring training since Saturday morning combined with his heavy workload last season might raise the eyebrows of some conspiracy theorists. But the Phillies insist there is nothing wrong with their ace, and that he was simply attending to a personal matter when he left Bright House Field prior to practice on Saturday. Manager Charlie Manuel said Hamels is expected back at practice today.

Manuel said Hamels is behind the other pitchers in camp as far as progress, but downplayed any concern.

"He's always started slow," Manuel said. "He's getting there. I think he'll definitely be ready when the season starts."

Phillers

Manuel said he expects lefthander Jamie Moyer and righthander Joe Blanton to pitch during the Phillies Grapefruit League opener against the Pirates on Wednesday . . . Manuel said he feels comfortable with newly acquired veteran Miguel Cairo at any of the infield positions. Despite the plethora of veteran infielders in camp, Manuel said incumbent utility man Eric Bruntlett isn't fighting for a roster spot . . . Prospect Carlos Carrasco, who Manuel says is a serious candidate for the No. 5 spot in the pitching rotation, has spent all winter working on his cutter and curveball, pitching 46 innings in the Venezuelan Winter League. *

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.