CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ten days passed without Cole Hamels' throwing from a mound. Thirty-five pitches in a March 1 bullpen session felt like a thousand to Hamels. That prompted the Phillies to alter a strengthening program to energize his fatigued left arm, a side effect of wintertime biceps tendinitis.
Hamels rebooted Wednesday morning in the bullpen at Bright House Field. He fired 20 fastballs, and equated it to something he would do "the day before spring training." That was four weeks ago for the rest of the Phillies pitchers.
While Hamels admitted this will be a deliberate process, the $144 million lefthander drew encouragement.
"It feels really good," he said.
There is no timetable for his return. If Hamels follows a typical progression, however, a return in May is most likely.
"Trust me," he said, "I'm doing everything I possibly can. . . . I want to be out there competing, because this is what I love to do and I love to be the best at what I do. I don't want to be here and be some sort of charity case. I'm here to win and help this team win, and I want to pitch for a really long time."
Pitching coach Bob McClure described Hamels as "free and easy" on Wednesday. He did not eliminate the possibility of Hamels' appearing in a Grapefruit League game before the team breaks camp, but that will depend on how the pitcher feels in the coming days.
He must throw more bullpen sessions and face hitters in a controlled setting before game action is possible.
"The last thing you want to do is go backwards again," McClure said. "It was so easy for him coming [into camp] that it kind of surprised him and all of us when his arm was a little tired. But it happens. It happens to everyone. He went very hard as far as working his way back to this point before the setback."
Hamels arrived behind schedule because of biceps tendinitis that developed in November. He informed Phillies doctors around Thanksgiving, and they shut him down for December. Hamels did not lift weights until mid-February.
He cited that as a cause for the arm fatigue. The Phillies redesigned his training program in the last week to build a stronger base. Head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan tested the left shoulder's range of motion from various angles to ensure its safety.
"That's really what's apparent; I haven't had a base to build off of, to be able to go out there and throw the ball with enough strength for an extended period of time," Hamels said. "That's what we've really been trying to push."
Hamels will throw again Friday or Saturday, depending on how he feels Thursday. McClure noted that Hamels increased his intensity and velocity near the end of his throwing session. The pitching coach said "it's too far into the future" to predict a date for the pitcher's return.
"That's probably going to be the question that's going to be asked for a long time, because I can't give that answer - that definite," Hamels said. "I'm just going to go on how I feel, how I recover, how the workouts go for the next couple of days and go into the next bullpen."
Hamels, who disclosed his condition to reporters Feb. 12 against the wishes of some team officials, maintained there is nothing alarming about his current health. He pushed himself too hard, too fast.
"I don't try to hide anything because it's not fair to anyone," Hamels said. "Trust me, I don't like having the part where I said one thing and then have to go back on it. I'd rather just throw it out there, be honest, and accept the consequences as opposed to having to hide something and then really taking the brunt end of it."