The plan is for free-agent addition Ty Wigginton to get the bulk of the playing time in Howard's absence. Manuel said during the winter meetings in Dallas that he'd love to get Thome into 20 games at first base.
While Thome cannot promise he can play first base that many times, he did make a pledge.
"The one thing I will say is that the work I put in, nothing will be unturned," he said. "I'll put in everything I can and then we'll just have to see how my body reacts once we get there."
At his offseason home in Illinois, Thome has altered his workouts in an effort to be able to play some first base.
"I've done more stretching, pilates, yoga, and really tried to focus in on my flexibility," he said. "Obviously my core work has stayed the same for my back. I've been doing a little more running. The last couple years I've had some foot issues that have kind of cleared up."
Visions of Thome in the midst of a pilates and yoga workout might seem comical, but he takes it seriously.
"I go in with the attitude that it's helping me," he said before admitting that he does not have the prototypical yoga body. "I will say this: Through the winter I've felt much better as I've done it."
Thome has also fielded ground balls more often this winter.
"It has been indoors," he said. "When you live in Chicago, that's the challenge, but there are a couple of facilities around Chicago that have FieldTurf, and it has been pretty good. It feels good to get back out there a little bit. I'm taking them about two or three times a week. I don't really count. I would say maybe 30 to 50 each time.
"I will say this: Taking ground balls on FieldTurf isn't the same as it will be in spring training. The game speeds up, so you have to be prepared."
To that end, Thome headed to Clearwater, Fla., Friday night. He will spend the weekend at the Phillies' training facility trying to get ready for next month.
Reunited with Manuel and the Phillies, he's eager to get the 2012 season started in the hope he can fill in the one missing line on his Hall of Fame resumé: World Series champion.
He doesn't mind at all that his primary role with the Phillies is going to be pinch-hitter. It's a role he has discussed with Manuel and Manny Mota, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers coach and arguably the best pinch-hitter in baseball history.
"I know my role," he said. "When I went to L.A. [in 2009], I loved it. I love being in a situation where you can make a difference in a game. I think the key to pinch-hitting is that . . . you have to get yourself ready during the game. It's not as easy as, 'OK, you're pinch-hitting, go hit.' Let's face it, when you're facing eighth- and ninth-inning guys, those guys typically have the best stuff in baseball. You have to be ready."
Based on his long, successful history, Thome should be ready and willing for everything when he arrives in Clearwater for spring training. He will discover if he is still able once he gets there.
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577, email@example.com or @brookob on Twitter.