This is the time of year when managers like to move names around their lineup cards as if they were tiles on a Scrabble board. Spring training is a laboratory when they can play around with different formulations, trying to discover which ones are combustible, which are inert.

It's a process that falls somewhere between an exact science and throwing darts at a roster card. What sizzles today might fizzle tomorrow.

For most of last season, Charlie Manuel didn't have to think too hard about the middle of his order. If all were available, second baseman Chase Utley would normally hit third, Ryan Howard fourth and Jayson Werth fifth.

These days, Werth plies his craft on the opposite coast of Florida as a Washington National and Utley is still battling the patellar tendinitis in his right knee that has kept him from making a single Grapefruit League appearance.

The season opens 2 weeks from Friday. If the Phillies' manager has an inkling of who he intends to write into those pivotal spots in the order, assuming Utley has to open the season on the disabled list, he's keeping it to himself.

But baseball is a game that sometimes reveals its secrets to those who pay close attention. If an infielder starts shagging flies during batting practice or an outfielder grabs a first baseman's glove and takes a few throws, it might not signify a thing. Or it might mean that somebody else is hurting or a trade is possible and the team is mulling all its options.

So the lineup that Manuel handed in before yesterday's 13-7 exhibition win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium could have been just more spinning the batting order wheel of fortune. Or it could have contained clues for the baseball detective as surely as hieroglyphics on a stone tablet speak to an archaeologist.

Shane Victorino batted second, Raul Ibanez third, Howard fourth and Placido Polanco fifth.

Manuel hasn't hidden the fact that he thinks Utley is the keystone player in his lineup. So it's interesting that, with the time when results will begin to count drawing inexorably closer, Ibanez was inserted into that crucial spot yesterday. And that he responded with a single in the first inning and a homer to left-center in the third.