Hamels feels good in rehab outing, to pitch for Phillies next week
BY ROB PARENT
LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Cole Hamels breezed through a 55-pitch rehabilitation assignment for the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws on Thursday night. There were no obvious signs of the left shoulder strain that brought Hamels back to the scene of his first professional baseball job in 2003. He didn't feel any, either.
"I felt great," Hamels said. "Everything worked. I felt healthy."
Hamels faced one over the minimum number of batters through 5 2/3 innings of work against the Hickory Crawdads. As predetermined, the Phils' prized rookie lefthander with the injury history was pulled by BlueClaws manager Dave Huppert after running the count to 3-1 against the 19th Crawdad to bat against him. He left with the score tied at 1-1, to a generous ovation from the crowd of 7,795 at FirstEnergy Field.
One fan was clapping with relief.
"I think he satisfied himself that he's healthy and I think we're satisfied that he's healthy," Phillies' general manager Pat Gillick said. "What impressed me is, he looked very natural out there: free and easy and very confident."
Hamels will join the team in Los Angeles on Friday. According to Gillick, he should pitch early next week during the series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Of course, Hamels said he was ready to do that before he paid his old baseball home a visit.
He knew his night would be over after 55 pitches. But it was impressive that it took him nearly six full innings against the Crawdads to reach that point. Hickory won the game, 4-1.
"I wanted to go longer," Hamels said. "Because it's a tied game, I wanted to go longer and try to get an extra run and get a victory for these guys."
Hamels said he thought the Phillies were inclined to put him on the DL because of his history of injuries. There were the broken hand and bad back that ruined his 2005 season and an elbow injury that cut short his 2004 campaign. His healthiest time was in 2003, most of which was spent in this cozy little Shore town.
It seemed as if Hamels enjoyed the reunion. Three years ago, he made 13 starts here, going 6-1 with an 0.84 ERA. He became a local hero, dancing on the field with a guy dressed in a Blues Brothers outfit. (There are pictures of that all over the park.) He made a lot of friends.
"Everybody here was so good to me," Hamels said. "Obviously, it's not in my nature to think I would come back. But just to come back and do something for the fans and play, and get my work in, I think it was a great experience for everybody."
But it was still a business trip.
"I just wanted to go out there and compete and play baseball and try to help this Lakewood team win," Hamels said. "The biggest difference was putting on a small uniform instead of one of those custom, comfort-fit uniforms up there."
Hamels said he had not wanted to go on the disabled list, adding that he felt it was better for the Phils to bring up another pitcher after they engaged in a 16-inning game with the Mets last week. The Phils found themselves in a spot, though, when Jon Lieber subsequently went down with a strained groin.
"That was unfortunate," Hamels said. "Now I just want to get out there as fast as I can and compete, and help Philly win."
In the fourth inning, Hickory's leadoff hitter, Brent Lillibridge, took a 90-m.p.h. fastball deep to left for a home run.
Hamels, who reached 94 m.p.h. on the radar gun at times, grooved that one. But he also popped a few of his 40 strikes at 93 m.p.h., blowing away three Crawdads in the process.
Even though this was a short rehab stint, he was more than willing to give them a challenge.
"It's my nature to push myself," said Hamels. "This is what we're born to do."
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