CLEARWATER, Fla. — Cole Hamels warned everyone before the start of spring training that he wouldn't be ready for the start of the regular season thanks to wintertime shoulder tendinitis.
Thursday morning the veteran left-hander had news that all but eliminates him from getting on a big-league mound at any point in the opening month of the regular season.
Instead of throwing to hitting during a live batting-practice session, Hamels had to share the news that his shoulder and the rest of his body had reacted unkindly after his last bullpen session Saturday morning. While Hamels stressed it wasn't a full-blown recurrence of the inflammation he experienced in the offseason that required a cortisone shot and nearly two months of curbed physical activity with his upper body, the fatigue was enough that he and the organization are pumping the brakes and slowing down his progression.
“We are going to slow it up a bit,” the three-time All-Star said. “I threw the last bullpen and everything felt great, felt good coming out, things were working. ... But the way my body responded later in the day and the next day, it just fatigued out. I was trying to push it and obviously try to get back, and I think I pushed it a little too hard, too quickly, and I wasn't able to recover the way I'm used to or accustomed to.”
There won't be an MRI or any further examination done in the next few days. Hamels equated the sensation to dead arm, except that he felt the deadness was more widespread. In his opinion, the inability to do weight training while he convalesced in the winter has caused atrophy that requires a rebuilding of strength overall in his torso.
“Dead arm or frozen arm,” Hamels said. “That kind of pertains to the shoulder not wanting to throw the ball ... with the strength you need to throw against hitters and in bullpens.
“I've talked with (team doctor Michael) Ciccotti. I've had all the tests done that they're required to do and everything checked out. I knew nothing has gone wrong (structurally). I think my body's telling me 'Hey, slow it down a little bit.'”
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to temper any concern about Hamels' long-term well-being, stressing that a little caution in April will be worth it in September.
“I want Cole for the long haul. I want him right,” Amaro said. “It's a marathon of a season. When he's right, he's right. When his body allows him to move forward, then we'll have him for the long haul. That's what I want from Cole.
“We're comfortable with where he is. He's seen doctors. He doesn't have any structural damage. For us, we're just waiting for his body to bounce back.”
The delay in Hamels' progression means a sixth starter will be needed to fill in for at least a few starts. That competition is wide open thanks to the shoulder issues plaguing Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin, who combined to make 26 starts for the Phillies last season.
When the Phillies signed Cuban Miguel Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million contract last summer, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. expressed confidence the right-hander would be the No. 3 or 4 starter for the Phils this season. However, the 27-year-old has shown a lot of rust and expectations have been curbed significantly for him in the short term. Gonzalez was scheduled to pitch in Thursday's split-squad game against Detroit in Lakeland, but that was washed out.
The veterans with an inside track due to experience are right-hander Jeff Manship (1-5, 6.19 ERA in 10 big-league starts) and Sean O'Sullivan (9-15, 6.02 in 37 starts). However, a pair of non-roster invitees from the minor-league system, right-hander David Buchanan and southpaw Mario Hollands, have shown surprisingly good stuff and poise early in the Grapefruit League. The Phils also have B.J. Rosenberg stretching out, but the hard-throwing right-hander would have been considered more for a shorter-term need than the four or more starts the Phils probably will ask from the guy who gets the job.
“If you talk to 30 GMs right now, they're all looking for pitching depth,” Amaro said. “We'll keep looking. ... I would be hard-pressed to find guys who are throwing the ball better than some of our options. They've done a good job.
“The only thing that is a concern for me is we have to push (Hamels) back a little bit. ... This is part of what happens. Sometimes it doesn't go in a straight line. As Cole stated, it's more a matter of fatigue. We don't have any issues about health as far as structure. We just have to be patient with his rehab, that's all.”