CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Howard is working out without a boot on his left foot.

The 2006 NL MVP fielded grounders while sitting on a stool Thursday and wasn’t wearing the protective boot on the field for the first time since a setback three weeks ago.

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“It’s good to be out of a boot. I’m excited,” Howard said. “I’m trying to make little miniature goals. The first goal is to get out of the boot. Goal achieved.”

Howard had a procedure Feb. 27 to remove an infection around his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon. He was cleared to start light exercises in a boot last week. On Wednesday, he got the OK to shed the boot.

It’s still uncertain when the three-time All-Star first baseman will return to the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup, and it’s possible he could miss at least the first two months.

“We’ll see,” Howard said. “The whole big thing has been to make sure everything is healed up and that everything is 100 percent. Just to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or any reoccurrences of anything. So just taking those precautions.”

Howard ruptured his Achilles making the final out of last season in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the NL division series. The slugger batted .253 with a team-high 33 homers and 116 RBIs last year. But he was 2 for 19 (.105) with a homer and six RBIs in the NL division series against the Cardinals.

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Howard acknowledged he probably won’t have 100 percent of the strength back in his injured leg for another year, but he wants to play as soon as possible.

“If I’m capable of going out there and playing, I’m gonna go out there and do the best that I can,” he said.

The Phillies also are without five-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. He left camp earlier in the week to see a specialist about chronic problems with both knees and still hasn’t returned. It’s uncertain when Utley will play this season.

Howard and Utley are the Nos. 3-4 hitters on a team that has won five straight NL East titles and is looking for its second World Series championship since 2008.

“I’m not worried about the team. This isn’t the first set of injuries that we’ve had; it’s not going to be the last,” Howard said. “We’ve dealt with injuries over the last three, four years. We’ve never been that team to make excuses. We’ve got a lot of capable guys. People want to look at it how they want to look at it, but we’ve got a great group of guys and it all starts here in spring training, they can go out, hold it down and get the job done.”

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