Hamels may return in two weeks

Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Cole Hamels joined his teammates Tuesday for opening festivities at Citizens Bank Park, and he could return to the rotation in two weeks' time.

Hamels said his arm strength has progressed faster than originally expected. He thought he would need six minor-league starts, now it could require just five to recover from biceps tendinitis. He will make two more starts for single-A Clearwater. That pegs him for a possible return April 22 in Los Angeles.

"I do feel really great," Hamels said. "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."

Hamels threw 50 pitches last Sunday for Clearwater and 15 more in the bullpen afterward. He is scheduled for around 75 pitches in Friday's start. Hamels believes the magic number for being "game ready" is 90 pitches; the team has increased him by 15 in every outing.

"He's feeling good about everything," Ryne Sandberg said, "so that's going well."

"We're playing it by ear, where we have the proper structure and they're not pushing me too fast, too quickly," Hamels said. "And I think everything is going really well."

The Phillies will need a fifth starter Saturday and and on April 17. Hamels could assume that spot's next turn on April 22 against the Dodgers with an extra day of rest.

David Buchanan will pitch for triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday night and remains a candidate to start Saturday for the Phillies, Sandberg said. If he makes that start, it would be on short rest. Sandberg would not say whether Buchanan's pitch count will be limited Tuesday.

Should Buchanan make a normal start with the IronPigs, Jonathan Pettibone is the likely pick for Saturday. Pettibone is on the 40-man roster; Buchanan is not.

Sandberg said roster politics should not have an effect on the decision.

"It's more of 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."

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