Amaro downplays Hamels issue

Posted: February 14, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - While most of the 27 other pitchers in camp got their arms in motion, half of them preparing to throw off the mounds, Cole Hamels played catch at a shorter distance.

He's behind the rest of the pitchers in camp, just as he said he would be a day earlier. He hopes to throw his first bullpen session before the end of next weekend.

Hamels, who is throwing pain-free after battling biceps tendinitis in November, is unconcerned and believes he can play catch-up, even if he's not able to take the ball on Opening Day. The man who signed Hamels to the richest contract in Phillies history also isn't worried.

When asked to rate his concern on a scale of 1 to 10, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "Two."

"He had a little bit of tendinitis," Amaro said. "We were just very cautious with him in November and December. We don't want to push him. We want to make sure he's ready to go physically before we get him on the mound in Philadelphia or wherever he may start."

There's nothing else to it, according to Amaro.

"We're not trying to hide anything," he said. "Everyone thinks we're trying to hide things. We just want to be cautious with the guy. He's too important to us not to be cautious. Why would you want to push him? If we wanted to push him, tell him to get ready for Opening Day, we could probably do that. But what's the point?"

Nineteen months after keeping Hamels off the free-agent market with a 6-year, $144 million deal, Amaro added another playoff-tested starter to his pitching stable when he came to an agreement with A.J. Burnett on a 1-year, $16 million deal.

Amaro would not talk about Burnett, as the deal is not yet official. But manager Ryne Sandberg was asked how he would feel if a proven, durable starting pitcher suddenly showed up to his camp this weekend.

"Something like that would be very impactful. Who do you have in mind there?" Sandberg said with a grin. "A.J. Burnett - there are probably 30 teams out there who he could help. We'll see what happens there. I can't really comment on it, but if something like that could work out [it would be] very well. You can't have enough pitching. That would be very good . . .

"You're talking about a veteran player who knows how to pitch. He's a ground-ball-type pitcher."

Sandberg was notably giddy, even if it was also the first day of his first camp as a major league manager. After watching Zach Miner, Tyler Cloyd and others struggle in September, Sandberg obviously appreciates the value of capable, proven big-league pitchers.

Adding another body alone helps, too.

The Phillies released veteran Chad Gaudin before camp began, as the nonroster righthander failed a physical. Management is unsure of how or when Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will play into its pitching plans. The usually healthy group of homegrown, former minor leaguers who are major league-ready is limited to Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin this spring.

With a healthy Hamels and Burnett in the mix, it's much easier filling out the bottom of a rotation.

"If we would happen to get [Burnett], then it becomes figuring out who the fifth guy is and having some depth to the starting pitching," Sandberg said. "Going into the offseason, that was a priority. If something like that happens, it would definitely be a step in the right direction of depth."

Amaro agreed.

"For me, it's about pitching depth," he said. "We have to try to create as much pitching depth as we possibly can. Hopefully, we'll continue to try to work to do that."

If they all remain healthy, Hamels, Burnett and Cliff Lee will not only take the burden off the bullpen in the games they pitch, but they should also take the strain off any potential spot starters, too. Each member of the veteran trio has averaged more than 30 starts in each of the last six seasons.

With Kyle Kendrick and a group of candidates that includes Roberto Hernandez, Gonzalez, Pettibone and Martin, the Phils can only hope for the good fortune of finding two more dependable starters to provide stability, too.

The Phillies used 10 starting pitchers last season. Cloyd, Martin, Miner and Raul Valdes made a combined 23 starts in 2013.

At least on Day 1 of 2014, the forecast for the starting pitching wasn't as ominous as Sandberg perused his roster.

"Just seeing everyone out there," Sandberg said, "I see potential."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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