CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard said Tuesday he hoped to lose the protective boot on his left foot sometime in the next two weeks.

But he showed up Thursday morning at Bright House Field without the boot and worked out without the boot. Good news? Well, it's not bad news, which has been coming every day lately for the Phillies infield. Third baseman Placido Polanco sprained his left ring finger Saturday, although he took batting practice Thursday. Second baseman Chase Utley left the team Monday to have an unknown specialist in an undisclosed location -- although he had been spotted this week in the Phoenix area -- look at his ailing knees. Utility infielder Michael Martinez then broke his right foot Tuesday, leaving the Phillies incredibly thin in the infield.

So a bootless Howard is arguably the best news the Phillies have received in a while. He had surgery to repair his ruptured left Achilles tendon in October. He had been progressing nicely, but an infection developed last month, which required a second surgical procedure to remove sutures that had not dissolved. Howard had been in the boot for more than three weeks to let the second wound heal.

"I don't think it really set me back," Howard insisted. "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. So now I can get back to doing more strength-training stuff. So I don't think it was really a setback at all. ... It's one of those things where I've looked at it as a blessing in disguise"

A blessing in disguise?

"It slowed me down," he said. "Basically with my workouts and stuff like that, sometimes I feel like maybe I would start too early and 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."

The Phillies had said in a best-case scenario Howard could be back in the lineup before June.

Howard on Thursday would not rule out a May return.

"Maybe. Maybe. We'll see," Howard said. "The whole big thing has been to make sure everything is healed up and that everything is 100 percent. Just to make sure we don't have any setbacks or any recurrences of anything."

Some inside the organization also believe a May return remains a possibility for Howard, although Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined comment on Howard's health or his infield situation.

Howard said he is going to begin baseball activities slowly. He is still taking antibiotics for the infection, and he said the wound has not completely healed. But foot and ankle specialist Mark Myerson, whom Howard visited Wednesday in Baltimore, deemed the heel well enough to take the next step.

"I don't think I'm very far from baseball shape," Howard said. "It's just getting out there and kind of a matter of repetition. Getting out, taking ground balls every day. And when I can hit, getting out and hitting every day. And then going from there, building up the strength again to be able to run and do all of that stuff, do all of the movements, cutting and all of that. I don't think it would be too, too far from that."

Other than when Howard might be back in the lineup, the second most important question is how effective he can be once he is back? Jimmy Rollins speculated to ESPN.com that Howard might not be the middle-of-the-lineup threat he is until 2013. That would be a big blow to a team trying to win a World Series in 2012.

Asked what he thought about that, Howard said, "I guess there's only one way to find out. ... I'm sure guys say it takes a full year, but that's to get 100 percent of their strength back. If I'm capable of going out there and playing, I'm gonna go out there and do the best that I can."

So he can still be a 40-homer threat?

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