Nine days remaining here in beautiful Clearwater, Fla. The weather today is about as perfect as you can get. Mid-70's, no humidity, partly cloudy, light breeze. I woke this morning and checked Philly.com and saw that the temperature up there started with a "2," which makes the weather here seem even nicer. Lots to get to today, so let's not delay. . .
1) I asked Cole Hamels three different ways whether he thought he'd be ready for the first week of the season, and he seems confident that he will be. The lefty threw 48 pitches today in a minor league game. The numbers were impressive -- 35 strikes, one hit, one walk, five strikeouts -- but keep in mind he was facing Class A talent. The biggest test came in between innings, a time period that had previously hampered Hamels and led him to get an anti-inflammatory shot thanks to tightness that kept developing in his elbow. He says he passed that test. There was no tightness whatsoever. He is confident he won't miss a start, so pencil him in for April 10th in Colorado.
2) What was the difference between today and his first couple of spring appearances? The stiffness is gone.
"It would stiffen up to where trying to touch my shoulder, I couldn't get there," Hamels said. "Now, I can do that and not feel any sort of inflammation or soreness or kind of that stiffness."
3) It isn't clear what Hamels velocity was -- we'll have to wait and get a report from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who was briefed by assistant GM Chuck Lamar after Hamels' appearance -- but he said he thinks he will be able to build his arm strength up in two more starts and be ready to go in the first week of the season. Hamels is expected to throw 70 pitches on March 29 and, if that goes well, 90 pitches on April 3rd or 4th in an exhibtion game at Citizens Bank Park.
"Truly, I was trying to let the ball go," he said. "But my velocity I think in spring training is always, every start, it will go tick, tick, tick (upwards)."
4) As positive as the news was, I'd say there is no chance Hamels is on the hill for Opening Night. He still hasn't thrown his curve ball in a spring game. That will come in the next outing, he says. He showed some obvious signs of fatigue in the fourth inning today as his fastball began to ride upstairs. He said his arm felt fine. It's just a matter of developing some endurance in it.
5) Chan Ho Park allowed three runs in four innings, but my eyes and ears in Dunedin -- Paul Hagen -- says the righthander pitched better than his line will indicate. He struck out seven batters in just four innings against the Blue Jays. The Phillies are going to have a very, very interesting decision between Park and Happ. Obviously, Park has shown an impressive array of pitches this spring. But he'll have to prove that he can stick around longer than four or five innings. He'll probably get that chance in his final start or two of the spring. I still think Happ will end up getting the call, but Park certainly hasn't done anything to disqualify himself from the conversation.
6) I don't have confirmation on this yet, but I was told over at the Carpenter Complex that Shane Victorino was en route from Dunedin to get some more at-bats in a minor league game. Victorino only got 20 plate appearances in the WBC and will need a heavy dose of work over this next week-and-a-half to get ready for the regular season.
7) A couple of gossipy items to pass along -- FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Phillies have some interest in Rockies utlity man Jeff Baker, who can play second, third, first or the outfield and last season hit 12 home runs in 299 at-bats. And, yes, he is right-handed. Secondly, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo mentioned in a story yesterday that the Phillies and Red Sox had discussed catcher Lou Marson.
8) The Twitter experiment is in its second day. I'm still playing around with it to see how it can help with keeping you all out there in Phillies Nation abreast of what is going on. Today we kept a running update of Cole Hamels' performance in the minor league game. Check it out at http://www.twitter.com/highcheese