Phillies Notes

Ryan Howard,

the National League's reigning MVP, continues to make progress and thinks he will be able to come off the disabled list for Friday's game in Atlanta.

The first baseman has been on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left quadriceps and has been hitting and running without any setbacks, the team said. For the first time since his injury, he took ground balls before yesterday's game and, with a smile, said he felt "perfect."

After working out with former Phillies trainer Jeff Cooper in the next few days, Howard will be used as a designated hitter at single-A Lakewood on Wednesday and Thursday.

"And then go down to Atlanta," he said. "The way things are now, yeah, I should be ready for the 25th. I've been feeling all right, so hopefully by the 25th, there will be little or no pain."

Howard is hitting .204 in 98 at-bats, with six homers. At this time last season, he had 14 homers.

Castro demoted

After yesterday's victory, the Phils sent

Fabio Castro

(12.27 ERA) to double-A Reading. That left them without a lefthander in the bullpen.

"He's going to be a situational lefthander in the big leagues - and be a good one - but he needs to pitch more," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Righthander Ryan Madson, who pitched two scoreless relief innings for Reading yesterday, was expected to be activated from the disabled list before tomorrow's game against Florida.

Road trip

After an off day today, the Phils will begin a six-game road trip tomorrow with

Cole Hamels

(6-1, 3.30 ERA) facing Marlins lefthander

Scott Olsen

(3-3, 4.80).

Hamels, who continues his climb toward the ace's role and is among the league leaders in several categories, has the second-most strikeouts in the majors since last year's All-Star Game. In that span, he has 171, behind only Minnesota's Johan Santana (174).

After three games in Florida, the Phils will play three in Atlanta before returning home to face Arizona and San Francisco.

Notes. The Phillies Phestival to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) will be held today at Citizens Bank Park. Gates will open at 5 p.m. for the annual autograph party and auction. Tickets can be purchased at the ballpark's ticket windows or by calling 215-463-1000. . . . The Phils, who are 35-10 on Sundays at Citizens Bank Park, averaged 38,309 fans during their 10-game homestand.

- Sam Carchidi