Hamels sharp as Phillies open exhibition season with 8-5 loss to Yankees

Posted: March 03, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - After Cole Hamels pitched his first two innings of the spring Saturday, he walked to the Bright House Field bullpen. He only needed 25 pitches against the Yankees and his day of throwing called for 40 total. So there was work left to do.

The bullpen is adjacent to Frenchy's tiki bar, where heat and beverages conspire for debauchery. "I think they're having a good time up there," Hamels said. But then he noticed something else.

"The Yankee fans were real nice for some reason," Hamels said. "I don't know why."

Grapefruit League games began Saturday with Hamels on the mound; a sight Phillies fans cherish, but know is finite. The lanky lefthander on the verge of free agency - when even the Yankees can bid on his services - at least jokes with millions at risk.

Then came a pitcher the Phillies already lavished with money this winter. Jonathan Papelbon jogged with Dropkick Murphys blasting, and merely a portion of the 10,539 fans in attendance realized the highest-paid reliever in baseball history was entering the game. It was, after all, the fifth inning.

Ultimately, it was an 8-5 loss to the Yankees, a game in which the Phillies used 26 players to signal the unofficial start of baseball. Two of them, Hamels and Papelbon, control a great deal of the Phillies' fate in 2012. Yet they have reached such different stages in their careers.

Papelbon is just beginning to fit in by showing some funny videos to teammates on his iPad. Hamels is resigned to wonder if he's playing with teammates who could soon be opponents, like what Raul Ibanez experienced Saturday as a Yankee.

"It's always good to get the first one out of the way," Papelbon said, and Hamels echoed that sentiment. Hamels allowed a run in two innings. Papelbon induced three fly balls in a perfect inning.

Hamels, signed to a $15 million deal for 2012, hopes to remain a Phillie. That much he's made clear. But it will cost a large sum to retain his services. So he won't be surprised to see more friendly overtures from opposing fans, whose dreams of Hamels in their team's uniform are not so far-fetched just yet.

"They've done that the past few years," Hamels said. "Fans these days, they prepare themselves. They have the information. They know when things are coming up."

Once Papelbon's trademark song (which he plans to change in the regular season) played, the fans knew their new closer imported from Boston was here. Earlier this spring, Papelbon said he relished the idea of a fresh start in a new league with new hitters to baffle. Naturally, he made his spring debut against the Yankees.

"I've faced them a thousand times," Papelbon said.

Existence as a closer in spring training is complicated. The fifth inning is not Papelbon's territory. Other closers, Billy Wagner for one, swear off Grapefruit League play as their ERA's soar. Papelbon retired all three batters he faced Saturday but was perturbed later.

"You definitely can't simulate closing in a sold-out stadium like Citizens Bank Park," Papelbon said. "For me, I just try to focus on my mechanics and fastball command and then go from there."

Pitching coach Rich Dubee said he's talked more with Papelbon for a sense of how he's feeling. The relationship will grow from there.

"He's very easy to talk to," Dubee said. "He's very regimented. He has an idea of what he needs to do to get ready."

For Hamels, spring is no longer a playground for testing a new pitch. His arsenal is fully stocked with four pitches, so the focus is on refining it all.

"It's just being able to execute my pitches," Hamels said. "I've been able to throw my fastballs in and away, change-ups in and away, and cutters in and away, then things are going to go really well."

Their work done for the day, both pitchers showered and departed long before the game ended. Only 32 days until opening day in Pittsburgh.

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.


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