ATLANTA- It was overcast and humid in the Atlanta metro area yesterday, which really did not matter to Roy Oswalt, because the veteran righthander was in Florida, where it was sunny and humid. Oswalt did not rejoin the Phillies after appearing in a minor league game for Class A Clearwater on Thursday. Instead, he will throw a bullpen session at the club's spring training complex tomorrow, then fly to St. Louis for the Phillies' two-game series against the Cardinals.

Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee reiterated their belief that Oswalt will be ready to make his scheduled start against impressive 24-year-old lefty Jaime Garcia on Tuesday. A less-than-stellar performance in Thursday's rehab appearance prompted some speculation that his back might still be bothering him. But Oswalt told Dubee and catcher Carlos Ruiz he feels healthy.

"He said he was OK," said Ruiz, who caught Oswalt Thursday. "He said he feels fine, doesn't feel anything."

Dubee said he was not concerned that Oswalt's fastball appeared to lack its usual zip. He allowed three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and one walk in five innings against the Palm Beach Cardinals.

The 33-year-old righty last pitched in for the Phillies on April 26, when he allowed five runs in three innings of a 7-5 loss to the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

"When's the last time he pitched?" Dubee said. "You don't just jump back into your costume and be fine-tuned. If it was that easy, guys would every other week off. It's not as easy as they make it look sometimes."

Oswalt, who is 3-1 with a 3.33 ERA, isn't the only starter with health question marks. But the Phillies said yesterday righthander Joe Blanton will start today, despite what they have described as "crankiness" or "soreness" in his elbow. Blanton labeled himself ready to start earlier this week, saying the soreness was the type of minor pain every pitcher deals with over the course of a season. He spent 15 days on the disabled list before his most recent start, when he allowed three runs in five innings against the Marlins on May 9.

Contreras improving

Jose Contreras received a rave review for his second bullpen session since he landed on the disabled list with elbow trouble.

"He threw well today," Dubee said after Contreras completed his side work at Turner Field.

Contreras could be nearing a return to the active roster. He last appeared in a game on April 21, when he tossed a scoreless inning against the Padres, recording his fifth save in as many chances. He was placed on the disabled list 5 days later with a Grade 1 strain of the flexor pronator tendon. At the time, the Phillies estimated his recovery at 3 to 4 weeks. Yesterday, Dubee declined to provide a ballpark estimate of when Contreras might return, but the 39-year-old righthander has progressed as expected, meaning a return during next week's homestand is at least a possibility.

Schneider status

Brian Schneider is eligible to return from the disabled list on May 27. Whether his recovery will take any longer remains to be seen. The backup catcher flew back to Philadelphia on Thursday, a day after straining his left hamstring while rounding third base in a 5-3 win over the Marlins. Schneider, who limped badly after the game, was scheduled to see team doctor Michael Ciccotti yesterday or today. Carlos Ruiz was activated before last night's game. Dane Sardinha will remain on the roster as his backup.

Phillers

Chase Utley (knee) played in his third straight minor league rehab game, logging seven innings in the field and going 2-for-4 at the plate for Class A Clearwater last night. He will play tomorrow for Clearwater at Bradenton . . . Righthander Brad Lidge (rotator cuff), who hopes to return to action in late June, continues to play catch, but has not thrown off a mound. *