More than eight months after crumpling to the ground with an Achilles injury as the Philadelphia Phillies' season crumbled in the playoffs, Ryan Howard will be back on the field Thursday night in the same Jersey shore stadium where he starred as a minor leaguer.

The 32-year-old former NL MVP will begin a rehab assignment with the Class A Lakewood Blue Claws, where he played in 2002.

It's his first game since rupturing an Achilles tendon after grounding to second for the final out of Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

How well -- and quickly -- Howard progresses through rehab, along with how well Chase Utley does in his own return from injury may well determine whether the Phils are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)