PHILADELPHIA -- Don't bet on seeing Ryan Howard again until Spring Training 2014.
The first baseman is recovering from left knee surgery in July, and it became clear on Thursday that the Phillies see little point in rushing him back to play a handful of games at the end of the season.
"Counterproductive," interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "At this point, counterproductive. We're talking about his health, getting healthy and getting strong, and having the offseason ahead of him. You don't want any fallbacks or anything. I think until he gets into baseball shape, which is not going to happen between now and the middle of September or the end of September ... we'll have him get in baseball shape."
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a point recently to say Howard already had lost 15 to 20 pounds.
Generally, the feeling is Howard needs to be in better shape. That was why former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel played Howard in 14 games in 14 days in Spring Training.
"I know he's on an extensive workout program there in Clearwater, [Fla.]," Sandberg said. "He's going to be living there. Things are set up for him to work out the way that he needs to work out, and get in shape and be ready for the first day of Spring Training, ready to go."
Howard has started baseball activities in Clearwater, which involves hitting, fielding and jogging.
"Basic stuff," Sandberg said. "Whether that's on schedule or whatever, I think it's pretty normal. It's a good sign of where he's at. He was here maybe four games ago and he looked good. For me, I think Ryan, from here forward and the offseason, it's about getting into the top baseball shape he can be in. He was hampered some with the injury and I don't know if he ever got back into true baseball shape.
"With him being healthy and having the whole offseason and Spring Training ahead of him, I think he can get to that. Baseball shape, getting trimmed up into a weight that's a playing weight, along with having his knee behind him. I think he favored that this year, not really having his leg strength all the time with his batting."
Asked what he can expect from Howard in the future, Sandberg said:
"He's older, but I would think he has something to prove and I think he wants to have fun and I think he wants to enjoy his career. To do that, you have to get yourself in shape and allow you to do that. I think that's what he needs to do.
"A guy like him in the four-hole, whether it's home runs or projected home runs, he still has a knack of getting RBIs. Even if he's not totally swinging the bat or hitting the ball out of the ballpark, he still gets RBIs in situations. Thinking ahead on what he would do -- getting in baseball shape, starting with that first -- ability and what the numbers are and those [things] will fall into place."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.