Pressure Mounting On Victorino

The Phillies will start the 2012 season without Ryan Howard in the lineup. To make up for at least some of the offensive loss, the Phillies will look to Shane Victorino to put up big numbers in 2012.

As 2012 gets underway, this could be the biggest year in the career of the Phillies' center fielder Shane Victorino. Early on in the campaign, he is expected to take a major role in the middle of the lineup; perhaps hitting in the fifth spot in the order as Ryan Howard recovers from the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered at the end of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals.

It happens at a convenient time for Victorino, who is entering the final year of a three-year, $22 million contract and could be one of the hot properties on the free agent market next offseason. Not that he's anxious to leave the team that gave him the first sustained chance in the big leagues back in 2006.

"I think that everyone knows how much I love Philadelphia," Victorino said. "I would want to stay here and finish my career. We'll see what happens."

The Phillies lineup has been the subject of constant scrutiny since the end of the postseason, especially considering that it was the second consecutive October where the failure of the offense resulted in an early playoff exit.

However, Philadelphia was one of the better offensive teams in the National League the final two months of the season after picking up Hunter Pence in a trade with the Astros in July.

"The lineup we have is still very dangerous and very capable of doing some great things," Victorino said. "I know that we're all ready to get going again here soon."

As for Howard, he's been cleared to begin workouts after meeting with doctors to examine the Achilles' tendon that ruptured on the final out of the National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals. Howard could begin baseball activities in six weeks, according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., but there's no exact timetable for when he'll be back in a Phillies uniform.

In other medical news:

Reliever Jose Contreras has been cleared by team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, to begin his throwing program. Contreras missed a great deal of 2011 because of a right elbow injury. If healthy, Contreras is expected to be the Phillies' right-handed setup man for newly signed closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Cole Hamels is progressing nicely and is well into his throwing program after offseason surgery to remove loose bodies in his left elbow.

Placido Polanco "feels great," according to Amaro, after undergoing double sports hernia surgery in October and could be 100 percent by the time spring training starts.

And finally, Hunter Pence is fully recovered from his sports hernia surgery from after the season and is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

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