Hamels' injury is nothing. Maybe.

Posted: March 18, 2009

The Phillies put their special yellow crime-scene tape around the left elbow of Cole Hamels this week, turned down the volume, and urged bystanders to keep moving.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Hey, isn't that Chase Utley over there?

There is little to be gained by the team from added drama, particularly in March, and there is no point enhancing the already sensitive radar Hamels has for any physical problem.

So, the organization was definitely low-key about the news that its best pitcher has a tender elbow on his throwing arm and probably won't be ready to take the ball for the first game of the season.

He was shipped quietly to Philadelphia for an examination by team physician Michael Ciccotti yesterday and made his way back to Clearwater having barely ruffled his hair. Ciccotti gave Hamels a shot to calm down the inflammation around the elbow, and everyone says this whole episode will be a dim memory very soon. Pitchers experience soreness in spring training, particularly pitchers who threw for 2621/3 innings the previous year. All part of the process.

What we know about Hamels is that he will pitch when he feels perfectly ready and not before. Experience has taught him to be careful with his body, and last season's results are proof that he knows what he's doing. He pitches on the fifth day, not the fourth. He sticks to a strict workout regimen. He has access to a team-provided chiropractor, even on the road, a request that had some old-liners rolling their eyes two years ago.

Well, no one is making fun now, not after 14 wins, a 3.09 earned run average, and then a 4-0 record in the postseason. Hamels seems ready to become the team's first 20-game winner since Steve Carlton. That's a plateau few reach any longer, but Hamels appears as capable as anyone.

If his arm stops hurting.

It isn't as if nothing went wrong for the Phillies last season - and they still won the World Series. A baseball season is an endless string of good news followed by bad news, good games followed by bad games, and you can never tell how it will all turn out until the very end.

Last season, the Phils put Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz on the disabled list at one point or another, and didn't get Brad Lidge activated until after the season began. That worked out well for Lidge by the end.

They also endured the meltdown of Adam Eaton and were forced to send Brett Myers to the minor leagues to get his head together. They survived, even though Geoff Jenkins was not the player they hoped for and even though their regular catcher was unable to hit .220.

There has never been a baseball season - even for the champions - in which everything goes right. And, clearly, this one isn't going to break that streak.

But there have been baseball seasons in which everything seems to go wrong - although never for the champions - and you just hope the Hamels news isn't the first twig cracking in the forest.

If nothing else, the uncertainty should be a reminder of how special the 2008 season really was. Yes, that actually happened. Every bit of it. The guys on the disabled list got healthy. Lidge was perfect for 41 save attempts. Myers came back to be an effective starter. Underwhelming additions like Joe Blanton and Matt Stairs contributed to the ride. It all happened, right down to the last bit of confetti that fell on Broad Street.

Unfortunately, 2008 is over, and 2009 is still waiting to reveal its nature. Thus far, the new season has given the Phillies little more than a sore-armed star and a top reliever with a 50-game suspension. Almost everything else is unknown. Spring-training games don't have enough weight to provide a feeling for how the rest of the season will go. Utley is back, ahead of schedule, and that's a bright spot. Ryan Howard and Myers are sleeker and fitter than usual for this time of year. Also good.

And Cole Hamels has a tender left elbow.

It's probably nothing. Everyone says so.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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