Thoroughbreds in the sky

Photo provided Gary Moore, President of the Phoenixville Pigeon Club

PHILADELPHIA - Mick Billmeyer is in his first year as the catching instructor for the major-league team. As part of his job description, he gets behind the plate to assist pitchers during any bullpen work they do.

Three hours before game time Thursday, the sound of Billmeyer's glove popping in the bullpen could be heard throughout Citizens Bank Park as closer Billy Wagner threw off the mound for the first time since straining his groin in San Francisco last week.

It sounded as if Wagner was back to his blazing self. When Billmeyer was asked how Wagner threw afterward, he removed his glove, pointed to his swollen hand and made what is best described as the sound a dog makes when you step on its paw.

That noise was music to Larry Bowa's ears.

"He was throwing hard - really hard," Bowa said of Wagner, who can't come off the disabled list until Sunday. "He had no problems throwing."

Wagner, who has eight saves, a 1.20 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 15 innings, echoed that assessment.

"It went fine," he said. "I'd rather just cut it loose and see how it does. If I feel something, then I can just back off.

"I didn't feel anything in (the groin) area. Nothing felt different. I was able to do everything that I normally do. We'll see how it does coming back (today)."

Wagner is scheduled to do some agility exercises today, then face a live hitter or two and take fielding drills Saturday. Even if all of that goes seamlessly, it's doubtful that he'll come off the D.L. for Sunday's series finale against the Padres. Since the Phillies have a day off Monday before playing two games against the Mets in New York, the organization would rather he take the extra two days just to be safe.

Wagner sounded confident that a rehabilitation assignment in the minors wasn't necessary.

"On my healthiest days, I can go out there and walk people," Wagner said.

The Phillies entered Thursday night's game with the Dodgers 8-3 without Wagner and the combination of Tim Worrell and Ryan Madson have combined to go 4-for-5 in save opportunities in that time.

"It shows you that not one person on this team is more important than the others, whether it's me, Jim (Thome) or whomever," Wagner said. "It seems like we've gotten stronger as a team and people have picked it up."

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With Randy Wolf temporarily shelved with mild elbow tendinitis, right-hander Josh Hancock will be activated before Saturday's game against the Padres and make his first start as a Phillie.

Hancock, acquired from the Red Sox two years ago in the Jeremy Giambi trade, had to be pulled from his start Wednesday night for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre after three shutout innings. Red Barons manager Marc Bombard decided to yank Hancock's chain for a while when making the move.

"(Bombard) came up to me and said, 'I'm taking you out,'" said Hancock, who was 4-3 with a 3.60 ERA in eight starts for the Barons. "I said, 'What the bleep?' I was bleeped off. He strung me out for a while, then told me what was going on."

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NOTES: Thome sat for the second straight game to rest his sore left thumb and right index finger. He should be back in the lineup today ... Starting tonight the Phils host the Padres for the only time this season. The pitching matchups: Tonight (7:05, Channel 57, 950 AM), Kevin Millwood (4-2, 4.09) vs. Adam Eaton (1-4, 5.51); Saturday night (7:05, Comcast, 950 AM), Hancock (2004 debut) vs. Justin Germano (major-league debut); and Sunday (1:35, Channel 57, 950 AM), Vicente Padilla (3-4, 4.07) vs. Brian Lawrence (6-2, 4.56).

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