CLEARWATER, Fla. - This just in: The Phillies are not the best baseball team in the world.
In fact, they looked more like one of those college teams invited to play a big-league club early in spring training during their exhibition game Tuesday afternoon against a collection of all-stars from the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican team tuned up for its World Baseball Classic opener Thursday in Puerto Rico by teeing off on Cole Hamels, a three-time all-star and former World Series MVP who has no desire to add WBC MVP to his resumé.
"It's fun to watch," Hamels said after being torched for 12 hits and eight runs in 22/3 innings. "I know to participate in something for your country is always an honor. But I just know I'm glad . . . the only decision I have to make is whether to play or not play. And I know I wouldn't help the team out in the position I'm always at in spring training when the [WBC] games are going on."
Hamels' attitude toward this world baseball affair is one shared by many of his pitching peers. It's another of many reasons we won't truly know which country plays the best baseball in the world even after the March 19 WBC championship game in San Francisco.
The idea of watching Hamels pitch against a Dominican lineup with Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, and Hanley Ramirez is an exciting one. It would be far more exciting if it happened in the middle of July when the pitcher was in midseason form and capable of throwing nine innings.
Here in spring training, Hamels' primary mission Tuesday was to continue getting ready for his season-opening assignment April 1 against the Atlanta Braves. If that meant throwing nothing but fastballs to Ramirez, he didn't care whether the results were a couple of hard-hit doubles.
"Yeah, I think I only threw four pitches to Hanley, and they were all fastballs," Hamels said. "So that's a little bit different from what I'd normally do. They're really good at what they do . . . but you can't let it take away from your game plan and how you're trying to prepare for spring training and where you want to be at the finish of spring training. Sometimes you're going to run into things, and obviously I ran into a bullet today."
After the Dominican Republic finished with 28 hits and a 15-2 victory, Hamels was asked whether he would be more inclined to participate in the WBC if it took place in midseason, when all his tools were sharpened. Even then he was less than lukewarm about the idea.
"It's tough," he said. "I know my allegiance is to the Phillies and this organization winning the World Series. I think winning the World Series is a little bit more important than whatever trophy they give for the World Baseball Classic. The World Series is ultimately the goal that I would go for no matter what they are throwing out there for the champions of the World Baseball Classic."
That's not the patriotic answer, but if you injected truth serum into the Phillies' front-office personnel, they probably would tell you that's exactly how they feel, too. As a fan, ask yourself this question: Would you rather see Hamels hoist the WBC trophy or another World Series trophy?
Pitching coach Rich Dubee clearly was more interested in Hamels' getting ready for the season than he was in the results of Tuesday's Dominican hit parade that continued long after the lefthander exited the game.
"Spring training has a purpose, and one of those things is you have to get your fastball going," Dubee said. "And he knows they're all fastball hitters over there. He threw five curves, seven change-ups, nine cutters, but he wants to get his fastball command going. That's the purpose of today. It's not about getting results. His goal was to get 60 pitches in and to try to control his fastball. Heck, he's facing an all-star team and he doesn't have all his weapons."
It would be great theater if someday Hamels or Detroit's Justin Verlander or Seattle's Felix Hernandez faced star-studded lineups from the best baseball countries around the world when they were at the top of their games. Unfortunately, that's not what spring training or the World Baseball Classic is all about.
Contact Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @brookob.