Ruben Amaro Jr. says that he does not have any concern about the structural health of the Cole Hamels' shoulder. Ryne Sandberg says he wants his No. 2 starter to make sure he is healthy "for the long haul." But the Phillies have a roster that cannot afford to give away a month, and these were the names that were mentioned as competing for a spot in their rotation now that Hamels is likely to miss all of April: Jeff Manship, Sean O'Sullivan, David Buchanan, B.J. Rosenberg.
"The only thing that's a concern for me is the fact that we have to push him back," Amaro said yesterday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, shortly before the Phillies' scheduled Grapefruit League game against the Tigers was cancellled due to rain. "The fact that he's throwing, not having any pain or anything like that, this is part of the rehab, things happen, it doesn't always go in a straight line. It's really more a matter of fatigue. We don't have any issues about his health as far as his structure or anything like that. We just have to be patient."
Amaro said that Hamels, who was scheduled to face hitters in batting practice for the first time today, is hoping to get on a mound again sometime next week, but that no definite plans have been set. In the meantime, the Phillies will spend the rest of the month evaluating the handful of pitchers in camp whom they could plug in to the rotation while Hamels is out. Two of those pitchers were scheduled to face the Tigers today, with 24-year-old minor leaguer David Buchanan and scheduled to be followed by Cuban signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Sandberg rattled off some of the names who he will be watching and initially did not mention Gonzalez, but the manager later said that he will be watching him like everybody. Gonzalez was erratic in his first outing of the spring. Buchanan has impressed with his no-fear mentality and his willingness to pound the strike zone. His cutter/slider looked like a major league weapon against the Yankees on Saturday. Again, though, it is early, something Amaro and Sandberg stressed many times as they spoke with reporters on Thursday.
"Just continue to look that are throwing well in camp," Sandberg said. "We have guys that have had some good outings. O'Sullivan is a guy, we have Manship, we have Buchanan. It just creates an opportunity for somebody. I'll continue through camp and observe everybody. These spring training games become meaningful for those guys, and it also creates an opportunity. On the other side, with Cole, I want Cole for the long haul. I want him right. It's a marathon of a season. When his body allows him to move forward, and to have him for the long haul, that's what I want from Cole."
Manship has opened a lot of eyes in the early going here at camp. He has had plenty of chances at the big league level, most of them with Colorado, and his numbers are not impressive. But the 29-year-old has commanded the ball well thus far in camp, keeping his fastball low in the zone while mixing in some quality offspeed stuff. Manship said that he worked with University of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson this offseason to fix some mechanical problems, and that he feels better than he has ever felt.
Of course, it is early, and the Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 14, which is the first time that none of their first four starters would be available on normal rest.
"We're not going to put any timetables on it," Amaro said. "We're just going to make sure that he's 100 percent when we pitch him in Philly."
As for Hamels, Amaro said there are no plans to give him an MRI, because he is not in pain and there are no concerns about the structural integrity of his shoulder.
Amaro did say that Hamels was affected by a bout with some sort of sickness that sidelined him for a couple of weeks this winter, which might not be a new revelation but it is new to me.
"For us right now, it's just wait for his body to bounce back," Amaro said. "The biggest issue that we had that we probably didn't realize before, was how much time he had to lose and what his body went through when he got sick. It was two weeks down, which is a lot for someone who is sick. So that pushed him back, and obviously did a number on his body. He lost I think maybe 10 or 15 pounds, so he's still gaining strength and all that other stuff. We talked to Bob McClure about it, who saw his bullpen, and it was outstanding."