MIAMI - Like many teams, the Phillies badly need bullpen help.

Current Phillies relievers have a 4.73 earned run average.

Like many teams, the Phillies have been in contact with Paul Cohen, the agent for Troy Percival, and have expressed their interest in the four-time All-Star reliever, assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Percival, 37, hasn't pitched since 2005. He retired on Opening Day as a member of the Angels, for whom he collected 316 of his 324 saves. At the time, he had an injured right forearm, but, after working out with his son's Little League team this spring, Percival discovered his velocity and his resilience had returned.

Percival has said he is willing to come back in a non-closer role. He is expected to work out for teams within a couple of weeks. The Phillies will attend, Amaro said.

They are desperate for bullpen support. They moved No. 1 starter Brett Myers to the bullpen April 18, and he now is their closer.

They already have demoted lefties Matt Smith and Fabio Castro, and probably have Clay Condrey on their roster only because of injury issues.

Ryan Madson, whom they hoped would be their setup man, just came off a disabled-list stint. Geoff Geary and Antonio Alfonseca have had stints of competence, then slid.

Closer Tom Gordon, sidelined for 11 days with an upper-respiratory infection, just began light walking in Clearwater, Fla. He hit the DL May 2 and won't even start throwing until after he sees team doctors Monday.

Lineup roulette

MVP first baseman Ryan Howard yesterday took ground balls and batting practice and ran the bases at Class A Lakewood, with no aggravation to his injured right thigh and knee. He will be the designated hitter for Lakewood tonight and is scheduled to play first base tomorrow night.

All of that puts him on track to come off the 15-day DL Friday in Atlanta, and manager Charlie Manuel must make some interesting decisions.

Righthanded hitter Wes Helms, formerly the starting third baseman, essentially has been platooning at first base with Greg Dobbs, and has been slumping. He also committed his team-high seventh error of the season last night.

Abraham Nuñez, considered a defensive upgrade over Helms, ended an eight-game hitting streak last night.

Dobbs, meanwhile, was 12-for-29, with a homer, two doubles, a triple, four RBI and seven runs scored in his last 10 games.

So, when Howard returns, does Manuel revert to Helms at third on most days or does Nuñez become the regular starter?

Does Dobbs do more than pinch-hit?

Manuel supplied no definitive answers, but indicated that the hot hand gets the action - that Nuñez will continue to start regularly and that Dobbs, while he won't replace Howard could see time against righthanders at third base, leftfield or rightfield.

"Nunie's been playing very well," Manuel said.

Of Dobbs, Manuel said: "We need some lumber. We've got to score some runs."

Dobbs' two homers in 64 at-bats are two more than Helms' total in 124 at-bats. Dobbs also has 13 RBI; Helms, 12. However, Dobbs is the only lefty power bat Manuel can call off the bench, and Dobbs entered last night tied for second in the league with five pinch-hits and six pinch-hit RBI.

Phillers

With no lefties in the bullpen, Manuel will likely lean on Madson, against whom lefties were hitting .219 before last night, when Madson pitched two perfect innings of relief . . . With an 0-for-4 night, shortstop Jimmy Rollins' slump inched downward to 8-for-55.

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