PHOENIX - They had feared the worst because the signs were not encouraging. Jose Contreras, a 39-year-old pitcher with more than plenty of mileage on his right arm and playing the role of trusted closer for the first time in his career, had injured his elbow.

He went for an MRI exam Tuesday and both pitcher and team have reason to be relieved. Contreras was diagnosed with a "very mild," Grade 1 strain of the elbow. He could be pitching again for the Phillies in three to four weeks, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

"It's better than the alternative," Amaro said.

The alternative in this case could have been Tommy John surgery. Contreras strained the flexor pronator tendon in his elbow, the same injured tendon that typically leads to Tommy John. And for Contreras, at his age, that could have been huge trouble.

Instead, Contreras will be shut down for at least seven days. He will possibly begin throwing after that.

Amaro said his optimism grew Monday when Contreras was seen by team physician Michael Ciccotti in Philadelphia and reported less severe symptoms of the strain.

The GM did admit the Phillies won't truly know how long it will take for Contreras to return until he begins to throw. But that could come within a week.

"That's good news," Amaro said. "It's positive news."

Meanwhile, the erstwhile closer Brad Lidge (partially torn rotator cuff) will also see Ciccotti on Thursday or Friday after the Phillies return from their West Coast trip. The expectation is Lidge will be cleared to begin playing catch.

"He feels pretty good," Amaro said. "He's been chomping at the bit. But we want to make sure Ciccotti sees him and gives the OK to start throwing.

"He literally hasn't picked up a baseball."

Lidge is still far away from a return. But the bullpen could also receive a boost in the form of J.C. Romero when he is eligible to return May 4. Romero (strained right calf) has continued to play catch in Philadelphia and will need to go on a rehab assignment before being activated.

Brown on rehab

The news is also good for outfielder Domonic Brown (broken right hand). He will begin his official rehab assignment with single-A Clearwater on Wednesday after the team saw a great deal of progress in his past few extended spring training at-bats.

Brown homered twice in an extended spring game Tuesday.

Amaro did not say how the Phillies will use Brown's maximum 20 days on the rehab assignment. He is scheduled to play three or four games in Clearwater, then it's possible he continues the rehab at triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"We'll see how it goes," Amaro said. "We'll play it by ear."

The GM said he still believes Brown could have an effect at the major-league level this season. He was injured March 5.

"We just want to get him to play," Amaro said. "He hasn't played in a long time. He was starting to swing the bat better. He started very slowly in extended. . . . He's progressed much better over the past two days. We think he's ready, physically, to play in Clearwater."

Orr starts

Charlie Manuel removed Wilson Valdez for a pinch-hitter in Monday's game and then started Pete Orr at second Tuesday. Orr could see more time at second base.

Entering Tuesday, Valdez was 2 for his last 22.

"Wilson, every now and then, needs a blow," Manuel said. "If you give him a little rest and put him back in there, that's when he plays better. Getting Orr some at-bats is definitely not going to hurt us. In fact, we can benefit from it."

Extra bases

Chase Utley (patellar tendinitis) ran for the second straight day, the first time he has run on consecutive days since the beginning of spring training. . . . Infielder Harold Garcia tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will require season-ending surgery. Garcia, 24, was added to the 40-man roster this winter and hit .300 at double-A Reading in 12 games.

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