If the Philadelphia Phillies are going to have any chance of competing in the National League East this season, they are going to need a healthy Cole Hamels back in the rotation. The 30-year-old lefty started the season on the disabled list due to biceps tendinitis, but things could be looking up for the ace in terms of recovery time.
Hamels, who was in Philadelphia yesterday for opening day, said that he could be back in the rotation in just two weeks. That would put him one week ahead of schedule. Hamels and the Phils now believe that he could return to the major league mound on April 22 in Los Angeles to face a tough Dodger squad. Hamels said, "I do feel really great. Everything has been going really well in between days, the day after, my bullpens. I feel nothing is in the back of my mind. There's nothing lingering. I'm ready to go, and they're letting me go."
The pitcher is steadily building up arm strength, by 15 pitches every outing, at the minor league level in Clearwater. He could throw around 75 pitches during a minor league start as soon as Friday. Manager Ryne Sandberg is happy with Hamels' progress, "He's feeling good about everything, so that's going well."
Due to gaps in the MLB schedule at the beginning of the season, the Phils won't need a fifth starter until April 17. The frontrunners for that spot are currently Jonathan Pettibone and David Buchanan. "It's more . . . performance-based and who we think is the right guy and ready for the task and who makes sense as far as quality, giving us a chance to win," Sandberg said. "We have two or three choices. We'll make a decision in the next day or two on that."
The former number one draft pick signed a six-year $144 million contract in July of 2012, which made Hamels the highest paid player in the history of Philadelphia sports. However, he had a disappointing 2013 and ended the season with a 8-14 record. Meanwhile, the Phils finished with a dismal 73-89 record last season despite having one of the highest payrolls in the National League.
Hamels and the Phils hope that the injury is just a minor blip, and he can join ace Cliff Lee to re-establish a dominate top of the rotation. The aging Phils are not expected to be a huge offensive juggernaut this season and will need excellent starting pitching to make a run against NL East rivals and World Series contenders in the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals.
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