CLEARWATER, Fla. — At the base of Ryan Howard's locker were three pairs of shoes, two pairs of sandals and that godforsaken boot. Howard slipped on some red Under Armour sneakers and walked freely around the clubhouse.

The hulking first baseman is no longer constrained to the boot following clearance from Mark Myerson, the doctor who performed Achilles surgery and the subsequent procedure to clean his infected wound, during a Wednesday examination in Baltimore.

But the boot remained at his locker as a reminder of how much progress remains.

"I'm going to keep it for a while," Howard said. "Maybe burn it."

In this morose Phillies spring training, Thursday represented something of a bright spot. Howard sat on a stool and took ground balls. He will work out again Friday, the day after that, and the next day.

There remains no timetable for his return, and Howard is quite content to leave it that way.

"I'm trying to make little miniature goals," Howard said. "The first goal is to get out of the boot. Goal achieved."

The wound is not completely healed, Howard said, and he is still taking antibiotics for the infection. But Myerson saw enough progress to allow Howard to wear two sneakers again.

Howard began by doing strength exercises for his legs, some of which he was already doing with the boot, but now can be expanded. He believes he is not far from playing shape, although he's noticeably gained weight while sidelined.

The procedure to clean the wound was performed 24 days ago and he spent almost all of that time in the walking boot. But Howard questioned how much it harmed him.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to answer questions regarding injured players and the Phillies say they have not authorized Charlie Manuel to speak publicly about injuries.

"I mean, I don't think it really set me back," Howard said. "Because I think the biggest concern was my tendon and the tendon was never an issue. The tendon was repaired in October. So even with me not doing what I was doing before from a rehab standpoint, the tendon is still getting stronger, a little bit every day."

But the overarching concern is in what condition Howard will return. Kevin Frandsen, a minor-league infielder for the Phillies, previously tore his Achilles and said it took at least a full year to feel fully healthy and strong again.

"I'm sure guys say it takes a full year, but that's to get 100 percent of their strength back," Howard said. "If I'm capable of going out there and playing, I'm going to go out there and do the best that I can."

Is a less-than-100 percent Howard capable of being a productive player?

"We'll see," Howard said. "We'll see."

Asked if he has a return date in his head that he's not willing to share, he said, "Not really." Howard insinuated he was moving too fast in his progressions before the infection.

"It slowed me down," Howard said. "Basically with my workouts and stuff like that, sometimes I feel like maybe I would start too early. It just kind of taught me to slow down, listen to your body, take care of your body and just relax a little bit until this bad boy gets better."

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.