PHILADELPHIA --- Charlie Manuel kept Shane Victorino out of Friday's lineup for the series opener against the Rays in the hopes that a day off could help the struggling center fielder relax and clear his head.

Victorino, who had played in all 71 games thus far, owns a .252 batting average and a .319 on base percentage, both well below his career averages of .277 and .342. He also has eight home runs and 33 RBIs.

"I want him to relax," Manuel said. "There's a good chance he'll play [on Saturday] and everything. Right now I just kind of want him to see if he can clear his head a little bit. Sometimes an off-day's good for him."

Victorino will be a free agent at the end of the season, but he told the Delaware County Times that playing in a contract year is not affecting him.

"Charlie talked to me about [a day off on Thursday night], he said he might give me a break," Victorino said. "He said 'Shane, I'd like to give you a day off' and that was it. There's no apparent reason. I've played every game. And I'll be ready to go tonight if they need me defensively or pinch-hit, I'll be ready to go. It's just a day for me to get a day off, nothing more than that."

A switch-hitter, Victorino is batting .226 in 208 at-bats from the left side of the plate this season.

"The thing I see him doing, especially on the left side, his stride's real quick, he gets out in front and they take the sting out of his bat," Manuel said. "I don't particularly like sitting him, because when he's hitting good, he gives us a chance to win the game. He's played every day so far, but at the same time, the reason that we're resting him is because he's struggled a little bit from the left side."

Howard 'optimistic' rehab can begin next week

PHILADELPHIA --- Ryan Howard hopes to begin an official rehab assignment in the next week.

Howard said as much in a podcast posted on Thursday on his blog, The All-Star first baseman said he sets smaller goals for himself, and his current goals include being able to run the bases and play defense comfortably.

Howard, who has not yet played this season after rupturing his left Achilles in the National League Division Series in October, has been in playing in simulated games and facing pitching in Clearwater, Fla. Once a player begins an official rehabilitation assignment, he has 20 days to be activated by the Major League club, barring a setback.

"I'm very optimistic, looking at hopefully being able to start a rehab assignment here, hopefully in the next week or so," Howard said in the podcast. "So then I can actually get back to out playing games and starting to get out there on the field and working my way up to Philadelphia."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., in an interview with KYW on Friday, said that Howard has been improving each day and he, too, hopes Howard can start rehab games in the next week.

"He's getting a little bit better and stronger," Amaro told KYW. "He's getting a lot of at-bats in simulated games and such. That's a good sign. He's starting to move around the bases a little bit better each day. Once we get him to as close to 100 percent on the bases as we can get him, we'll probably start an actual official rehab on him."

Worth noting

• In the interview with KYW, Amaro said Roy Halladay, who is on the DL with a right latissimus dorsi strain, is "feeling great." Halladay has been symptom-free in his long-toss program, the general manager added. "He's actually trying to push [head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan] to uptake his bullpens, but we're going to be conservative with him," Amaro told KYW. "There's no reason to rush him back."

• Chase Utley (chondromalacia in his left knee) will play in another rehab game on Friday for Class A Clearwater. He will bat third and play second base. He went 0-for-3 as the Threshers' designated hitter on Thursday.

• The Rays are playing a regular-season game at Citizens Bank Park on Friday for the first time since Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, when Brad Lidge closed the game by striking out Eric Hinske.