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Phils 1B Howard nearing rehab

Ryan Howard could be three weeks behind Chase Utley in the parade of injured Phillies stars marching back to the team.

The first baseman will be examined by Phillies doctors today. If cleared, he will play for Class A Lakewood on Thursday to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.

Howard, 32, sidelined by a ruptured Achilles and subsequent infection in the surgical wound, would have a maximum of 20 days to spend in the minors. If he plays Thursday, he should be in a Phillies uniform around July 20.

Manager Charlie Manuel spoke to Howard on Monday and said he expected him back shortly after the All-Star break.

"He says he's feeling real good," Manuel said. "He told me when he runs he has a little limp. He says, 'I want to play and I feel like I can play. I don't know if I'll be where you want me to be or not.' He has to go play. He has to be able to do some things.

"He feels like he's getting there. He's very positive about where he's at."

GATORS SIGN: Florida P/DH Brian Johnson and SS Nolan Fontana signed professional contracts. Johnson, selected No. 31 in the draft this month, signed a deal with the Red Sox worth more than $1.5 million and reported to short-season Class A Lowell. Fontana was selected as the first pick of the second round by the Astros, 61st overall.

Also, Florida C Mike Zunino, the third overall pick, is close to a deal with the Mariners, the Seattle Times reported. The slot value for the pick is $5.2 million.

SEMINOLE SIGNS: Florida State OF James Ramsey, the 23rd pick in this year's draft, agreed to a $1.6 million deal with the Cardinals, slightly below the slot value for the pick.

MOYER JOINS JAYS: LHP Jamie Moyer, 49, who was released by the Orioles last week at his request, signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays. In other Toronto news, Triple-A Las Vegas C Travis d'Arnaud, one of baseball's top prospects, tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee and is out six to eight weeks.

FAN FEARED DROWNED: A 27-year-old man reported missing after attending Monday night's Giants-Dodgers game may have fallen off a San Francisco pier into the bay, police told the San Francisco Chronicle. A search by city police and fire boats and a Coast Guard helicopter was called off around noon Tuesday.

MLB HIRING: Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was appointed Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development.

CUBS: RHP Ryan Dempster, on the disabled list since June 18 with a strained right lat muscle, won't come off the DL when eligible Sunday, the team said.

D'BACKS: RHP Daniel Hudson left his start in the second with tightness in his right forearm.

DODGERS: Mickey Hatcher, who was fired as Angels hitting coach six weeks ago, was named a special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti.

RANGERS: LHP Martin Perez, 21, one of the team's top prospects, was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock. RHP Colby Lewis went on the 15-day disabled list with right forearm tendinitis.

RED SOX: RHP Clay Buchholz experienced erosion of his esophagus, and the condition caused internal bleeding. He is expected to make a complete recovery.

ROCKIES: Pitching coach Bob Apodaca was reassigned to special assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd at Apodaca's request.

WHITE SOX: OF Kosuke Fukudome was released after being designated for assignment last week.

Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.

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