SF@PHI: Asche bunts for first career hit

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies third baseman Cody Asche picked up two hits in Tuesday's victory over the Cubs, but he was not in Wednesday's lineup.

The reason was pretty simple. The Cubs had left-hander Travis Wood on the mound and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wants to bring the left-handed-hitting Asche along slowly. It is the same tactic employed early in the careers of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Utley started 36 games in 2003, but just two against left-handers. He started 57 games in 2004, just seven against left-handers. Howard started five games in 2004, just one against a left-hander. He started 79 in 2005, with 14 against left-handers.

"I know he can hit them," Manuel said of Asche. "I just want to go slow with him for a while, let him get a good feel for what he's doing. I've seen times when you turn guys loose and they don't respond good. I think it's better to kind of take it easy with him, let him see if he can't have some success before you turn him loose.

"That's what my experience has told me. I've seen some players be turned loose in the big leagues and they have trouble right from the start and it really sets them back. I'm not saying that would happen to Asche, but why should I take a chance with him? He'll tell you when he's ready to be turned loose. He'll tell you when he's ready to be moved up in the order and things like that."

Halladay prepared for next phase in comeback

WSH@PHI: Phillies' broadcast on Doc's rehab progress

PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Halladay is an optimistic man as he prepares to leave on Thursday for Clearwater, Fla.

Halladay said Wednesday he has made steady progress since right shoulder surgery in May. He threw a lengthy bullpen session on Monday and plans to throw a five-inning simulated game on Saturday at Carpenter Complex. If everything goes well, there is a chance he could begin a rehab assignment next week, although Halladay declined to put a timetable on a potential return to the Phillies.

The original timetable always had Halladay back in late August or early September.

"Everything, so far, has gone how we mapped it out," Halladay said. "I've felt really good the whole time. To me, it's really important that not only do I feel good, but the evaluation of what I'm doing is important also. I can't just say, 'Hey, I feel good. Bring me back.' The evaluation of what I'm doing and how things are going has to be there too.

"I'm not interested in coming back and pitching at the same level I was early this year. I want to come back and pitch at a high level."

This is an interesting time for Halladay. On the field, he will be looking to see if he can still get big league hitters out. Off the field, he is a free agent following the season. He said last month he would like to stay in Philadelphia, but that was before the Phillies entered a remarkable tailspin, which has some observers questioning the direction of the organization.

Halladay said his view of the Phillies has not changed.

"I see a lot here, actually," he said. "I see, obviously, Chase [Utley]. I like our third baseman [Cody Asche]. I like his swing and would like to see him catch fire at the end of the season. And Domonic Brown has been a positive. Seeing how Ryan Howard does this winter is good.

"And obviously, myself, knowing I can come back and compete at a high level is important. I see a lot here. I really do. It would obviously be my first choice if everything goes the way I feel it's been going. But that's down the road. I'm just trying to focus on now."

Halladay said the identity of the Phillies' pitching coach could also play a role in his decision. Current pitching coach Rich Dubee is in the final year of his contract, and the thought is that the front office will make coaching staff changes following the season.

"To me, it's important," Halladay said. "I never was very fortunate in Toronto to have long-term pitching coaches. They were in and out pretty quick. I felt like the longer I had a guy, the more he knew me, the more he could help me. Rich has been unbelievable since I've been here. He's helped me tremendously. That is definitely something to think about. If he's here, you know what you're going to get."

But the Phillies will want to see Halladay pitch with some success before they decide to bring him back. That is OK with him. He wants to see some success, too.

"I want to make sure when I start my rehab assignment I feel like I am able to compete at a high level," he said. "I don't want to treat it as a Spring Training-type of thing. I'm getting close to that now, where I can compete that way. I want to compete in those games like I would here, so I know when I get here, where I stand.

"I'm not coming back to try to get a contract for next year, a bigger contract, anything like that. I just want to come back and pitch. After that, hopefully make a decision on where I can win. I hope that's here."

Worth noting

• Ten of the 25 players on the Phillies' roster have played for Triple-A Lehigh Valley at some point this season. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is the only reliever not to have pitched in Triple-A this season.

• Darin Ruf entered Wednesday's game having reached base safely in 33 consecutive games. It was the longest active streak in the big leagues.

• Utley did not start on Wednesday, as Manuel gave him a scheduled day off.

"We have nine or 10 days until we have an off-day," Manuel said. "We have a day game tomorrow, so I thought today would be good."