Hamels now dealing with arm fatigue

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cole Hamels also was sick during the offseason and lost 10 to 15 pounds.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cole Hamels also was sick during the offseason and lost 10 to 15 pounds.
Posted: March 07, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Jonathan Pettibone, who was down for 2 weeks in February, walked off the mound adjacent to the short field at the Carpenter Complex and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who has faced major league hitters exactly one time in his life, shortly followed.

Behind them was Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure. It was Monday, and McClure reached for a sheet in his back pocket when he was asked if Cole Hamels, also scheduled to throw a side session that morning, was still in line to pitch.

McClure confirmed that Hamels would throw. But the pitcher never emerged and word was passed from the media relations staff that the pitcher's turn simply got pushed back a day.

Three days later, Cole Hamels emerged. The update from the $144 million pitcher was less than promising.

"I believe I threw 35 pitches," Hamels said of his most recent bullpen session, on Saturday. "To my body, it felt like a thousand."

Hamels won't throw off a mound again for at least another week and his availability for the first month of the 2014 season appears to be in serious jeopardy.

Hamels, who entered camp behind schedule after battling biceps tendinitis in November, has suffered a setback on his quest to rejoin the rotation this spring. With less than 3 weeks until the team breaks camp in Clearwater, Hamels said his arm has "fatigued out" after throwing two bullpen sessions.

Hamels was originally scheduled to face hitters for the first time yesterday. Instead, he found himself explaining why he was physically unable to perform that task on March 6, 3 weeks to the day camp officially opened.

"I think I pushed it a little too hard too quickly," Hamels said.

Ruben Amaro Jr., who signed Hamels to a 6-year, $144 million deal two summer ago, didn't sound as concerned as you might expect for a guy looking at a pitching depth chart with a couple of nonroster players suddenly in line to compete for a rotation spot.

"The only thing that's a concern for me is the fact that we have to push him back," Amaro said yesterday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, shortly before the Phillies' scheduled Grapefruit League game against the Tigers was canceled due to rain. "The fact that he's throwing, not having any pain or anything like that, this is part of the rehab, things happen, it doesn't always go in a straight line. It's really more a matter of fatigue. We don't have any issues about his health as far as his structure or anything like that. We just have to be patient."

With 2 days off in the first 8 days of their regular-season schedule, the Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 13 if their first four pitchers start on regular rest. Hamels won't be ready by then.

Hamels wouldn't say if he thought he'd be able to throw his first pitch of the 2014 season in April.

"I think that's the last thing I'm going to think about," he said. "Ultimately I just want to get back out and get on the mound and see how I'm going to fare there."

Hamels said there is no MRI scheduled; he also did not have one this winter, either. The reasoning? Amaro said Hamels has not been in pain and the team does not have any concerns over the structural integrity of his expensive left shoulder.

"I've had all the tests done that would basically be required to do and everything checked out," Hamels said. "So that's the thing. And I knew nothing has gone wrong. I just think trying to get in the best possible shape that I can in sort of a rushed, competitive atmosphere, something's going to not want to push it a little more . . . So ultimately my body's telling me, 'Hey, slow it down a little bit and start over in a certain way so that you can prevent injury but build up for the long haul.' "

Three weeks ago, on the eve of the first workout for pitchers and catchers in Clearwater, Hamels estimated he was "8 to 10 days" behind the rest of the pitchers, as he was still in he early stages of building his strength and stamina back following his arm issues in November. Yesterday, Amaro said there was another issue at play that slowed Hamels' offseason program: Hamels was sick over the winter and lost some weight.

"The biggest issue that we had that we probably didn't realize before, was how much time he had to lose and what his body went through when he got sick," Amaro said. "It was 2 weeks down, which is a lot for someone who is sick. So that pushed him back, and obviously did a number on his body. He lost, I think, maybe 10 or 15 pounds, so he's still gaining strength and all that other stuff."

But Hamels said he was healthy when he arrived in Clearwater, and he repeated the refrain for the next 3 weeks.

But suddenly that's no longer the case, as fatigue has set in, and there is real reason for the Phillies to be concerned.

Cliff Lee is a near-lock to start on Opening Day on March 31 at Texas, while A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez are likely to follow in the starting rotation. Beyond those four starters, the Phillies have little certainty.

Pettibone has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game after battling a shoulder ailment in February. Ethan Martin was shut down 5 days ago; he isn't expected to begin throwing again for 2 to 3 weeks.

Gonzalez, the Cuban free-agent rookie, has looked rusty; fellow righthander David Buchanan has only made six starts beyond Double A; and Amaro has said top prospect Jesse Biddle was not a candidate for the major league team. Nonroster players in camp include Jeff Manship and Sean O'Sullivan.

"O'Sullivan is a guy, we have Manship, we have Buchanan," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It just creates an opportunity for somebody. I'll continue through camp and observe everybody . . . On the other side, with Cole, I want Cole for the long haul. I want him right. It's a marathon of a season. When his body allows him to move forward, and to have him for the long haul, that's what I want from Cole."

Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, is entering the second year of his $144 million contract. It's the richest in franchise history.

Despite struggling in his first two starts and being the recipient of some tough luck for most of the season at large, Hamels went 8-14 with a 3.60 ERA in 33 starts in 2013. In the last four seasons, Hamels is 51-40 with a 3.13 ERA in 129 games.

During that 4-year span, only seven major league pitchers have a better ERA (minimum 100 starts) and only six have accumulated more innings.

If he can't pitch in April, Hamels is probably unlikely to stretch his 200-inning streak to a fifth straight year. But he can't worry about April until he feels strong enough to pitch to hitters in March.

He didn't feel strong enough yesterday.

"I didn't feel like it was safe to push it . . . because I think that would have led to injuries," Hamels said. "So I'm just really trying to allow my body to catch up. I'm trying to build the biggest base of strength that I possibly can to throw. And in the short period that I have had, I wasn't able to build it the best I could to face hitters."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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