Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels' first opening-day start was long time coming

Cole Hamels will get the opening day start he missed in 2009. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Cole Hamels will get the opening day start he missed in 2009. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 02, 2013

This moment should have occurred four years ago. Cole Hamels was atop the baseball world, reigning MVP of the World Series, cover boy for Sports Illustrated, which trumpeted "The Fabulous New Life of Cole Hamels."

"Maybe it's as easy as it looks," smaller type below the headline proclaimed. Maybe it's appropriate that Hamels was forced to wait for his first opening day start until now.

Maybe it's best Hamels learned the lesson of the 2009 spring, when he failed to adequately prepare and succumbed to a sore elbow.

Maybe it's fitting that the Atlanta Braves are the same scheduled opponent four years later.

Hamels, 29, will take the ball Monday night at Turner Field with his $144 million left arm and make the start he was always supposed to make.

"It's something I'll be able to remember for a really long time," Hamels said.

The lanky lefty is a popular pick for National League Cy Young in 2013, and understandably so. His 2.97 ERA during the last three seasons ranks 10th in baseball. Seven of the nine pitchers ahead of him have won Cy Young Awards in their careers.

If the future unfolds as the Phillies hope, this could be the start of a lengthy streak with Hamels at the head of their rotation.

"Comfort is everything," Hamels said. "Where you're comfortable you're able to be happy, you're able to play at the best level you can, and this is where I'm comfortable. I know this organization really well."

In 2009, Hamels was slated to pitch opening day. It was in fact, the opening game for all of baseball against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, but elbow soreness derailed Hamels' spring. Three days after an examination by team doctors revealed inflammation, Hamels endorsed Brett Myers for the opening-day nod. Hamels was eliminated for consideration to make the start six days before the season began.

That begat a forgettable season and served as a tipping point for Hamels' work ethic. If 2009 did not mark a fabulous new life, instead it provided a crucial lesson in maturity that later resulted in the largest contract ever signed by a Philadelphia professional athlete: six years for $144 million.

This spring, Hamels was sharp, besides a hideous start against the Dominican Republic team that did not count in spring statistics. He made four Grapefruit League starts and fanned 12 in 16 innings while posting a 0.90 ERA. After his final outing, a 46-pitch tune-up on Wednesday, Hamels said he felt "strong and healthy" heading into opening day.

Of course, the honor is nothing more than that. It is viewed as a status symbol in baseball circles. Roy Halladay started 10 previous opening days before Hamels usurped him this spring.

Hamels is just the third homegrown Phillies pitcher to start opening day since Chris Short in 1971. Bruce Ruffin started in 1990 and Myers pitched three openers from 2007-09.

"It's something I will cherish," Hamels said. "To be able to get your team off to the right start, that's ultimately what it is. It sets the tone for the whole season. You work toward it, you get in the best possible shape, prepare for the game and then you go out and execute."


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow @magelb on Twitter.


 

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