LOS ANGELES – The wait is over.
Cole Hamels makes his 2014 season debut Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium.
“I’m excited to see him,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It’s been a while. This is the day I’ve been waiting for. I like the possibilities of this rotation and now it’s all together with everybody healthy.”
Hamels became big news the day before spring training began in mid-February when he revealed that he was not able to go through his regular winter conditioning program because of an offseason bout of shoulder tendinitis.
Initially, Hamels hoped to miss just a couple of regular-season starts as he regained conditioning time in spring training. An early-March setback pushed Hamels’ schedule back a couple of weeks, but when he finally got on the mound around mid-month he made quick strides. Five minor-league starts later, he’s ready to face the Dodgers in a ballpark where he has had great success.
Including postseason, Hamels has made four starts at Dodger Stadium. He is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in those games. Overall against the Dodgers, Hamels is 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 starts, including the postseason (see story).
Hamels will oppose Dodgers’ right-hander Zack Greinke (3-0, 2.42). Both pitchers were products of the first round of the 2002 draft. Greinke went sixth overall to the Royals, Hamels 17th overall to the Phillies.
The Phillies actually scouted Greinke heavily before that draft. He was a pitcher/infielder from the Orlando area and Phillies scouts liked him as a position player. In fact, they envisioned him as an eventual successor to Scott Rolen at third base. When Greinke went off the board early, the Phillies focused on other players. They loved Hamels, but weren’t sure he’d be around at 17. In the end, a number of teams passed on Hamels because of concerns about the health of his arm (he broke his left arm his junior year in high school) and the Phillies were able to get him at 17. A decade later, Hamels became the highest paid athlete in Philadelphia sports history when he signed a six-year, $144 million contract.
There will be no restrictions on Hamels when he takes the mound Wednesday night. He reached 95 pitches in his last minor-league start and reports on his stuff have been good.
In an effort to build togetherness and share insights, Phillies starting pitchers have begun gathering as a group and observing each others between-starts bullpen sessions this season. After the session, pitchers share thoughts.
“You never know what you might learn,” pitching coach Bob McClure said.
Cliff Lee watched Hamels’ bullpen session over the weekend in Denver. According to Kyle Kendrick, Lee offered these words of wisdom to Hamels when it was over:
“Sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. You look great.”
Lee has been pretty good himself. Since the beginning of last September, he has 92 strikeouts and just three walks over 10 starts. He and Greg Maddux are the only two pitchers since 1900 with a strikeout-to-walks ratio of 30-to-1 or better over a 10-start span. Maddux had a 52-to-1 ratio over 10 starts in 2001.
Hamels described himself as being “super-excited,” to get back on the mound and contribute to his team.
The left-hander’s last five season debuts have not been good. He is 1-4 with a 9.55 ERA in those starts.
But he is ready to start anew Wednesday night.
“I just want better results,” he said. “They haven’t been too pretty the past couple years. I’m looking to make amends.”