The last time Chris Coste addressed his situation with the Phillies, he used these words:

Bitter. Frustrating. Disappointing. Heartbreaking. Painful.

A month ago, that's what Coste told the Daily News he felt after being assigned to Triple A Ottawa following a breakout rookie season in 2006. At 33, Coste hit .328 while serving as the team's backup catcher, a story straight out of the hit movie, "The Rookie."

Coste opened the year on the 15-day disabled list. A splendid spring by Greg Dobbs, a need for speed served by Michael Bourn and the signings of outfielders Jayson Werth and catcher Rod Barajas kept the Phillies from adding Coste to the roster when he came off the DL.

He was - well, bitter, frustrated, disappointed, etc.

"That lasted for about a week," Coste said.

When the Phillies finally decided to put Ryan Howard on the DL with his lingering left thigh strain on Saturday, Coste got called up. By then, he had accepted the Phillies' position. He's used to disappointment.

After all, he had to swallow starting at Triple A in 2006, when the Phillies traded for lefty David Dellucci just before the season started. Coste had hit .463 in spring training.

As in 2006, after some initial anger, Coste settled in.

"I became a minor leaguer again," said Coste, who hit .233 with no homers and 10 RBI with Ottawa.

Coste is used to being a minor leaguer. He has spent a portion of each of his eight seasons in Triple A. This was his third season with the Phils' Triple A affiliate, where he has played with the likes of Clay Condrey, Dusty Wathan and Brian Sanches.

"It helped," he said, "because I was with guys I knew."

He got to know some big-league players, too. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hugged him a hello yesterday, when he was the first player dressed in the clubhouse.

He was in a conciliatory mood.

In hindsight . . .

Ryan Howard strained ligaments in his left knee April 18 and missed the next three games. When that happened he already was nursing a strained left thigh suffered March 1 and first brought to the Phils' attention March 6.

Ryan Howard strained ligaments in his left knee April 18 and missed the next three games. When that happened he already was nursing a strained left thigh suffered March 1 and first brought to the Phils' attention March 6.

From that date until he landed on the 15-day DL, he hit .196 (10-for-51) with 23 strikeouts.

So, why not just put Howard on the DL on April 19?

Because the thigh strain wasn't even severe enough to require daily attention. And he also hit five homers and drove in 16 runs while hobbled.

"The quad really was day-to-day," general manager Pat Gillick said.

"He was getting treatment on it maybe 2 days in a row, then he would maybe go 2 days and not need treatment," assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Howard aggravated the thigh strain on May 4 in San Francisco. He started one game after aggravating the injury. A building, hardening hematoma on the thigh had softened by yesterday, he said - a promising sign.

Gillick said the hematoma is unlikely to need draining, so Howard's return May 25, the first day he can come off the DL, remains likely.

Phillers

Closer Tom Gordon, hospitalized Friday with an upper-respiratory infection, was scheduled to leave Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last night or today. Gordon is on the DL with right-rotator cuff inflammation. He was scheduled to throw Friday, but that has been delayed . . . With the loss to the Cubs, who started Ted Lilly, the Phillies fell to 5-10 vs. lefthanded starters. The Brewers will start all righties in the four-game series that starts tonight . . . On Saturday, righthander Scott Mathieson threw 20 pitches off the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in September. He emerged fine and will throw again Wednesday . . . Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee was not in the original starting lineup yesterday due to a kinked neck. He did start (he was 9-for-22 against Jon Lieber) but he grounded into a doubleplay and left the game after the first inning with neck spasms. Daryle Ward, originally scheduled to start, replaced him. *

Closer Tom Gordon, hospitalized Friday with an upper-respiratory infection, was scheduled to leave Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last night or today. Gordon is on the DL with right-rotator cuff inflammation. He was scheduled to throw Friday, but that has been delayed . . . With the loss to the Cubs, who started Ted Lilly, the Phillies fell to 5-10 vs. lefthanded starters. The Brewers will start all righties in the four-game series that starts tonight . . . On Saturday, righthander Scott Mathieson threw 20 pitches off the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in September. He emerged fine and will throw again Wednesday . . . Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee was not in the original starting lineup yesterday due to a kinked neck. He did start (he was 9-for-22 against Jon Lieber) but he grounded into a doubleplay and left the game after the first inning with neck spasms. Daryle Ward, originally scheduled to start, replaced him. *