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Phillies need Hamels healthy to win another title

Phillies need Hamels healthy to win another title
DENVER - Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels said he feels fine. He doesn't look like it.

And even if Hamels' elbow isn't hurting him, his pride had to be bruised by the pounding he took in his 2009 season debut against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Friday afternoon.

A solid pitcher in helping the Phillies win the NL East last year, the 25-year-old lefthander appeared ready to take the leap toward the top of the pack of big-league pitchers after his dominating postseason effort in which he was the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series.

A 14-10 record and 3.03 earned-run average during a regular season in which he allowed a major-league-low .272 on-base percentage was a precursor of what was to come. The World Series numbers went off the chart. Try a 4-0 record in five starts, accompanied by a 1.80 earned-run average.

He went from the hope of the future to the cornerstone of a pitching staff that the Phillies hoped could allow them to repeat as world champions. That's a pretty lofty goal for a team that had only one world championship — in 9180 — to show for the 106 World Series prior to last October.

As manager Charlie Manuel put it, "We've got to have Hamels. ... We've got to have Hamels."

Right now, they don't have Hamels, at least not the one the Phillies came to know a year ago.

The Phillies are knocking on wood, however. They hope that his arm really is sound, and that more than anything, he is just a bit behind in his conditioning schedule because of that mid-March cortisone shot in his left elbow.

"Physically, he's fine," said pitching coach Rich Dubee. "The command of his pitches is not there yet, and he needs more reps. I think he'll have a little more alertness when there's a third deck on the stadium and the big lights are on. He proved that last year."

The Phillies are banking on the belief that Dubee isn't whistling in the dark.

They can't afford Hamels to be a Brandon Webb. Arizona's annual Cy Young candidate was slowed with forearm problems during the spring. He admitted his right shoulder stiffened up when he was battered by the Rockies on opening day on Monday. He was upset that too much was made about his shoulder injury on Tuesday and then was scratched from a scheduled Saturday start on Wednesday. But he made a trip to the doctors on Thursday.

When Hamels' elbow flared up in March, an MRI exam revealed no structural damage. The cortisone injection took care of the soreness and swelling. Only time, however, will allow him to rebuild the arm strength that was robbed by the mid-March idleness.

The interruption to spring is being blamed for the fact that Hamels, who has been known to hit 94 miles per hour with his fastball at times and to sit in the low 90s, wasn't pushing the radar past 86 miles per hour during the spring or even on Friday, when the Phillies had been hoping the adrenalin of the regular season would give him a little extra zip.


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The Rockies let it be known that Hamels, as he was on Friday, is hittable. Try 11 hits and seven runs for the Rockies while Hamels was able to get only 11 outs. Hamels had been on the bench in Coors Field before but never on the mound. He is no longer immune to its hitter-friendly moments. Try a six-pitch sequence, after Todd Helton grounded out to put the Rockies up 2-1, in which Hamels served up a 1-1 home run to Garrett Atkins, a first-pitch double to Garrett Atkins and a 1-0 triple to Troy Tulowitzki.

"You can get away with that (fastball) if it is not down the middle of the plate," said Hamels afterward. "I was trying to work off that with my changeup. I wasn't able to. I had no chance throwing the curveball. It was not breaking. I learned about Colorado air."

And that, Hamels said, is the truth, plain and simple. There's no lingering injury that he is trying to hide. He's not looking to be a hero by pitching through pain.

"For me to go out there (hurt) and put the team in a situation where I give up seven runs is not going to help the team at all," he said. "If my arm is hurting, I would definitely take myself out of the game. I'm not helping the team by going out there trying to be tough."

The Phillies already know that they need vintage Hamels, the guy the Atlanta broadcasters refer to as "Darth Vader in Spikes," if they have any hope of surviving the rigors of the National League East again this season and maybe make it back to the World Series.

Right now, Manuel would just be happy if the Phillies could reach a point where they put the questions about Hamels' health in their rear-view mirror and turn their attention to his great ability.

"Obviously, he's got great stuff, but I really love the way he competes," Manuel said. "He loves to pitch. He has high expectations in himself. He's determined. He has a lot of passion and loves the game. I think he'll be fine."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 11, 2009

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