PHOENIX - Ruben Amaro Jr. would not go so far as to say that he had feared the worst, but the Phillies general manager was clearly pleased with the news that team doctor Michael Ciccotti delivered yesterday. An MRI revealed that closer Jose Contreras had suffered only a mild strain and could be back on the active roster within 3 to 4 weeks.

"It's good news," Amaro said. "It's positive news. You don't want a guy to go on the DL, but it's better than the alternative."

Now, the Phillies are hopeful that their bullpen will be back at full strength by the All-Star break. Contreras, who converted all five of his save opportunities and pitched eight scoreless innings during his brief stint filling in for injured closer Brad Lidge, will be shut down for 10 days, but could return by the end of May. Lidge, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit Ciccotti later this week, at which point he hopes to begin a throwing program.

Lidge has not thrown a baseball since spring training, meaning he essentially will have to start building his arm strength from scratch. Even if he does not suffer any setbacks to his rotator cuff, which he strained late in the spring, he isn't being counted on to return before the All-Star break.

Veteran lefty J.C. Romero, who strained his calf in a 6-3 loss to the Brewers on April 18, is expected to return on May 4, when he is eligible to return from the disabled list.

Once Romero returns, the Phillies likely will return lefty Mike Zagurski to Triple A Lehigh Valley. Righthander Mike Stutes, who pitched a scoreless inning in his major league debut in Monday's 4-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, should see plenty of opportunities to prove himself with Contreras sidelined. In the meantime, the Phillies will hope that their starting pitching continues to carry a heavy load.

Good news, bad news

Two pieces of minor league news, one pretty good, one not so much.

On the bright side, outfielder Domonic Brown hit two home runs in an extended spring-training game yesterday and will make his first official rehab start today for Class A Clearwater. The organization's top prospect, Brown broke the hamate bone in his right hand in early March and has been working his way back ever since. He entered spring training competing with Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. for playing time in rightfield, but struggled early in Grapefruit League play and never got a chance to find his groove.

The Phillies, who entered last night having scored four or fewer runs in 14 straight games, certainly could use an injection of energy on offense. Although it might be asking a lot for Brown to jump straight from his rehab assignment to the big leagues, Amaro and the rest of his operations department will keep a close eye on the rookie once he starts playing everyday for Triple A Lehigh Valley.

"It'll depend on how he plays," Amaro said when asked the outfielder's chances of joining the big-league roster this season.

The bad news is that second-base prospect Harold Garcia will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL a few days ago at Double A Reading. The 24-year-old utility-type prospect hit .305 with a .365 on-base percentage, eight homer and 29 steals last season at Clearwater and Reading. He was hitting .320 with two home runs and two steals in 52 plate appearances at Reading.

Rotation matters

Cole Hamels is scheduled to start today, 5 days after throwing 126 pitches in a victory over the Padres at Petco Field. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said the lefthander has responded well after the lengthy outing, when he tossed eight scoreless innings. Dubee had planned on Hamels dialing back his bullpen session on Sunday, but he stayed on his routine.

"He could've closed that night," Dubee said. "His stuff was that good. He was that fresh."

Hamels and the rest of the starters will get an extra day of rest before their next starts, thanks to an off day tomorrow.