The sun was shining, the bunting was neatly decorated at Citizens Bank Park and Cole Hamels was upbeat.
Three hours before the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers play in the first game at Citizens Bank Park in 2014, Hamels spoke outside the home dugout about the possibility of rejoining the starting rotation sooner rather than later.
Hamels made the first start of his official rehab assignment (and third game overall) on Sunday, pitching four innings at Class A Clearwater. But after getting his pitch count up to 65 (50 in the game, 15 more in a post-start bullpen session), Hamels said he may need just two more rehab starts before being activated from the disabled list.
"I believe the big test is the pitch count," Hamels said. "If I’m able to get 90 pitches, I know that I’m game ready. Because that gives me enough pitches and enough reps with my pitches to be able to go out there and have the confidence I can throw, especially to big league guys."
Hamels next start will come Friday at Class A Clearwater. The following day, Saturday, the Phillies will use a fifth starter for the first time this season.
As long as Hamels continues his current progression, he could jump into the rotation as soon as Tuesday, April 22 at Dodger Stadium (the date and place the unnamed fifth starter would be on tap for his third start).
Sandberg said Hamels will throw 75-80 pitches on Friday and confirmed Hamels' words that the goal was to get to 90 before rejoining the Phillies.
"He’s feeling good about everything," Sandberg said. "So that’s going well."
Hamels entered spring training two months ago behind schedule after experiencing biceps soreness in November and then had his rehab set back in early March while feeling fatigue. But his rehab has been on a straight line upward ever since.
"I think that’s something we’ll talk about and discuss with how I’m feeling," Hamels said of returning after just two more rehab starts. "Because I do feel really great. Everything has been going really well in between days, the day after, my bullpens. I do, 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 duration of Hamels' rehab will take place in Clearwater.
As for the unnamed fifth starter, David Buchanan, the likely front runner, will make his second start of the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley tonight. Buchanan threw six shutout innings in his first start, but would be pitching on short rest if he starts for the Phillies on Saturday.
But the Phillies could lessen his workload tonight to make him better suited to start Saturday. Other candidates for the spot include Jonathan Pettibone (also in Lehigh Valley's rotaiton) and Jeff Manship (in the Phillies bullpen.
In other news...
Chase Utley was sent home Tuesday after showing up to the ballpark "sick as a dog," according to Sandberg. Utley first began feeling ill on Sunday. Cesar Hernandez is starting in his place at second base.