NEW YORK - Shane Victorino will begin a rehab assignment today at Class A Lakewood. He is scheduled to play again tomorrow, take Monday off, and then play three games at Double A Reading. Provided his hamstring responds well to the action, he will likely be activated on Friday, when he is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list.

At that point, the Phillies should have some interesting things to discuss in their internal meetings.

The club will need to free up a roster spot to accommodate their Gold Glove centerfielder. Rookie outfielder Domonic Brown was called up when Victorino went on the disabled list on May 20. John Mayberry Jr., Michael Martinez, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload and Wilson Valdez have all been on the roster since Opening Day.

So whom does Victorino replace?

You can probably forget the idea of the Phillies parting with a pitcher. Although their bullpen has pitched the fewest innings in the National League, a game like Wednesday's 19-inning affair against the Reds underscores the importance of carrying seven relievers. And don't forget that the Phillies have a day-night doubleheader against the Marlins on June 15. There could come a point at which they decide the strength of their rotation enables them to carry 11 pitchers instead of the usual 12.

But, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said yesterday, "I don't think we are at that point."

Earlier in the week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. left open the possibility of sending Brown back to the minors if he was not performing. But the 23-year-old rookie has held his own thus far and clearly brings value to the lineup and bench. Against the Mets last night, he helped manufacture a game-tying run, leading off the eighth with a pinch-hit single, stealing second, and then scoring on a double by Jimmy Rollins. In the ninth, he drove in the go-ahead run with a single. Thursday, he went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk.

"First of all, we brought Domonic up here and he's going to get a chance to play," manager Charlie Manuel said before the Phillies' 6-4 win over the Mets. "We're going to get a look at him. Yeah, he has to hold his own, and stuff like that. But I would never, ever send him a message that we're going to send him down, or that we're thinking about sending him down. Because I'm not thinking that way at all."

That doesn't mean Brown is not a candidate to be sent down, but only that Manuel doesn't want him to have the matter on his mind over the next week. Mayberry has a minor league option remaining, meaning he can be sent down without passing through waivers. And after singling last night, he has only seven singles and a home run in 42 at-bats since taking over for Victorino in centerfield. But Mayberry is probably the Phillies' best defensive outfielder.

Francisco, who entered last night hitting .215 with a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage, also has an option remaining. Indications are that the Phillies view him as their least versatile defender besides Gload. But he also has two home runs in his last 14 at-bats and singled in last night's win over the Mets.

Martinez has not seen much playing time, but the Phillies like him a lot. And as a Rule 5 pick, he cannot be sent to the minors without first being placed on waivers and offered back to the Washington Nationals.

Gload has battled a hip injury, but contributed a pinch-hit single last night before being replaced by pinch-runner Martinez. The Phillies have said they do not plan on placing Gload on the disabled list at this point.

Should be an interesting week.

Lidge update

Brad Lidge is expected to take the next step in his recovery from a strained rotator cuff today when he is scheduled to pitch in an extended spring training game in Clearwater, Fla. Lidge has not faced batters in a game situation since March 24, when he allowed two walks and a home run in a Grapefruit League game against the Twins.

Today's appearance will mark the start of a progression that could see Lidge return at some point in mid- to-late June.

Amaro said this week Lidge will need a spring-training-like progression before he is ready to be activated from the 60-day disabled list. That usually means eight to 10 outings, pitching every other day.

The Phillies hae little incentive to rush him. Ryan Madson has converted all 10 of his save opportunities, with a 2.05 ERA in 22 appearances. Although nobody has said explicitly that Madson will remain the closer, the Phillies clearly plan on sticking with him. *

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