CLEARWATER, Fla. – The first big “uh-oh” of the Phillies spring training arrived Thursday morning when starter Cole Hamels disclosed he has been shut down for at least a week to recover from a “tired” arm.
Hamels, who has had just three light bullpen sessions since camp opened, hasn’t thrown off a mound since Saturday. He was scheduled for another bullpen session on Tuesday, but that was scratched, and was then scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday, but his arm wasn’t up to that, either.
“It’s just really tired and more difficult to go through the throwing motion, let alone be able to throw something very competitive,” Hamels said.
The lefthander suffered a bout of biceps tendinitis in November, which pushed back his offseason workout and throwing schedule. But, according to the plan this spring, Hamels would be slightly behind the other starters, but not too much. It was hoped he would be throwing in an exhibition game by next week and ready to take his place in the rotation by mid-April. That optimistic plan won’t happen now.
Is it time to start worrying about Cole Hamels?
“That’s the last thing I’m going to think about,” Hamels said, asked about his own timetable for a return. “I just want to get back out and get on a mound and see how I’m going to fare there.”
If Hamels can’t join the rotation until May, which would seem the earliest possible entry at this point, the Phillies will need to figure out a fifth starter for the rotation. Because of off-days in the early regular season schedule, they can get by with just four starters for a couple of weeks, but beyond that they will need another arm.
If there are no further surprises, the four starters who will open the season in the rotation are Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez. There are a few options for a fifth starter if Hamels is unavailable, although none nearly as attractive.
With Hamels, Pettibone and Martin sidelined, and Roy Halladay and John Lannan gone from last season’s team, only Lee and Kendrick remain healthy and on the roster from the 2013 starters.
Hamels, who had a very slow start last season on the way to an 8-14 record and 3.60 earned run average, has suffered through bad springs before. This time, his problems can be traced, he feels, to the biceps tendinitis.
The problem, Hamels said, was the "weight I’ve lost and the strength I’ve lost in my upper body because I wasn’t able to build up the normal strength that I have during an offseason workout program or lifting program or throwing program.”
“I didn’t have it and I knew I didn’t, so I’m trying to get it all in one short period of time and something’s going to give and (it) was my body telling me, you’ve got to take a step back and start over. You’re not ready to rush it to the next level right at this moment.”
In his last bullpen session on Saturday, Hamels threw about 35 pitches, but “to my body, it felt like 1,000,” he said.
Hamels said he is not experiencing soreness or inflammation in his left arm or shoulder and does not expect the condition to require an MRI or further testing.
“I had all the tests done that they’re required to do and it all checked out. I knew that nothing has gone wrong,” Hamels said. “It’s just trying to get in the best possible shape that I can in sort of a rushed competitive fashion. My body’s telling me to slow down a little bit, start back over in a certain way to prevent injury and build up for the long haul.”
Starting over three weeks into spring training is not good news for the opening day rotation, but that was the news on a rainy morning in Clearwater.