"I felt really great out there," Hamels said yesterday after pitching two scoreless innings in a minor league game against Class A prospects from the Pirates organization.
He looked good, too, retiring six of the eight batters he faced, the last after he spotted his 30th pitch for a called third strike. Six ground balls, a line drive, a fly ball, four swings and misses, two fouls, six called strikes and eight balls. Those were the final tallies, although the only important takeaway was the health of the $144 million left arm. This will be Hamels' first stint on the disabled list since August 2011, when he missed 2 weeks with shoulder inflammation. The official diagnosis this time was biceps tendinitis, which delayed the start of his usual throwing program.
After yesterday's outing, Hamels deemed himself one start into his normal spring-training progression, which typically features six starts, one every 5 days with the occasional off day mixed in. Such a schedule, if uninterrupted, could see him return in the last week of April, perhaps after an off day on April 28 that precedes a seven-game home stand against the Mets, Nationals and Blue Jays.
"I think it's up to them and how I feel, and if I have enough reps, when I'm able to throw all five pitches," Hamels said. "I don't want to jeopardize the bullpen. Those games count. You don't want to cost the team and try to build me up or see how many I could possibly go. They want to know that I'm ready to go and I can go the continuation of a game."
Until then, the Phillies will attempt to make do with the weapons at their disposal. Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez will carry them to April 13, the first date that Ryne Sandberg will need a fifth starter. One option for that role appeared in yesterday's Grapefruit League finale against the Blue Jays. Jonathan Pettibone was appearing in his first sanctioned outing of the spring after a case of shoulder soreness that shut him down in February. He pitched two innings, striking out two, walking one and allowing two hits. It will be a stretch for Pettibone to be ready by April 13; he'd have just two more starts to get himself ready for action by then.
More likely, the Phillies will pick between David Buchanan and Jeff Manship, two nonroster invitees who performed well this spring. Whoever gets the nod will likely need to make three starts before Hamels is ready to return. By that point, the Phillies will have played at least 26 games. Hamels said yesterday he is confident he will not be too late to make a difference.
"If we're able to minimize runs and give our team a chance to put up a few, then we're going to win ball games," Hamels said. "That's what we've always been built on. For the past couple years, it's been pitching. Having guys healthy, having Howie [Ryan Howard] healthy, and I know Jimmy [Rollins] is really trying to get back out to what he's capable of doing. Chase [Utley], you know straight through he's going to be out there every day. So it's exciting to see Marlon [Byrd] and Domonic [Brown]. You can't miss Chooch [Carlos Ruiz]. He keeps the pitching staff working. It's something where I do feel like we have a firm chance of staying pace or staying above .500. I think that's the goal. I know I'm confident in those guys doing so."
The Phillies released Bobby Abreu, although the 40-year-old outfielder is believed to be pursuing another major league opportunity. Abreu's release all but guarantees Tony Gwynn Jr.'s spot on the Opening Day roster. Backup catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Cesar Hernandez and outfielder John Mayberry Jr. are the three other probables for the bench, with a potential backup shortstop joining the gang . . . The Phillies were one-hit yesterday in a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays. That came 1 day after they were two-hit by the Tigers. They hit .226 for the spring and finished 9-17-3 in Grapefruit League play.
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