Ugly loss balanced by news of Howard's return

Even though the Phillies blew another one on the field, they were able to manage a smile or two when they got the news that Ryan Howard would be returning to their lineup on Friday.

The Phillies' 2012 season sank to a new low on Thursday at Citi Field. All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had reeled off 17 straight saves to begin his Phillies career, blew his second save opportunity in his last three chances in a 6-5 loss to the Mets.

The defeat put the Phils a season-high 13 games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East standings. They have lost seven of their last eight games and are 8 1/2 games back in the race for the National League wild card, behind eight other teams.

But for the second time in a week, general manager Ruben Amaro is sending a jolt through his fading team. Following Thursday's win, Amaro said first baseman Ryan Howard was "likely to play in Philadelphia" on Friday night. Before long, that "likely" became a reality shortly after Amaro spoke.

Howard has missed the first three months of the season while recovering from left Achilles' surgery. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI on Thursday at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the seventh game of his minor league rehab assignment.

Howard went 10-for-20 with a home run and two doubles and 10 RBI in those seven games between low Class A Lakewood and Lehigh Valley.

"I think he thinks he's ready," Amaro said of Howard.

Howard hasn't played in a game since suffering a complete rupture to his left Achilles tendon on the final play of the final game of the 2011 season, Game Five of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Howard's bat appears to be major league-ready. His surgically repaired left leg has apparently improved in the last month, too.

"Pretty good," Amaro said. "He's not a speedster and he'll probably be a little slower than he was before. He's moving OK. He's had a tiny hitch in his giddy-up, I guess, but when he's running full speed he looks pretty smooth."

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