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01/05/12 6:22 PM EST

Howard cleared by doctor to begin exercises

Phils slugger likely to start baseball activities in six weeks

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sounded relatively chipper early Thursday evening.

He had reason to be. Amaro said he received encouraging news on some players that had offseason surgeries, most notably Ryan Howard.

Howard had surgery in October to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Foot and ankle specialist Mark Myerson examined Howard earlier Thursday and cleared him to begin some strength and power exercises. Howard also will start jogging underwater, and he is likely to begin baseball activities within six weeks. Howard will start by fielding ground balls before progressing to hitting.

That timetable places Howard's baseball activities around the middle of February, which is the beginning of Spring Training.

Is there any chance Howard could be ready by Opening Day?

"I can't even speculate," Amaro said. "All I know is that it's nice to know that at some point in Spring Training, that he'll start doing some light baseball activities. I think it is good news."

Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti examined Jose Contreras on Thursday, and he cleared the veteran right-hander to begin a throwing program Friday. Contreras had surgery late last year to repair his right elbow.

"I don't have any timetable on him," Amaro said. "We'll probably know more within the next month."

But even with some uncertainty surrounding Contreras, Amaro said he is not looking to find another bullpen arm.

"If there's somebody that falls in our lap, yeah," Amaro said. "But it's a good enough report [for Contreras] that we think he's going to be ready. If not at Opening Day, then hopefully close to it."

Placido Polanco (sports hernia surgery) told Amaro recently he feels great and believes he will be ready to go 100 percent by Spring Training. Hunter Pence (sports hernia surgery) also is expected to be ready for Spring Training. Cole Hamels (surgery to remove loose bodies in left elbow) is throwing and feels fine.

"[It was] a very, very positive update as far as our walking wounded are concerned," Amaro said.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.