Ace alert: Hamels set for spring debut
With spot secure, hurler ramping up slowly after taxing '08 campaign
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cole Hamels is one of the lucky ones.
He is not fighting for a job this spring. He will be the Phillies' Opening Day starter April 5 against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. And because having Hamels ready for Opening Day is all that matters, he is taking the proper time to make sure he is truly prepared.
That's why Hamels is making his spring debut Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET, when Philadelphia faces Team Canada in an exhibition at Bright House Field. Other Phillies starters like Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco have already started twice.
"He thinks he's ready to get his spikes in the ground," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said.
Why the delay?
Hamels threw 227 1/3 innings during the regular season last year, which ranked second in the National League. He threw eight shutout innings in the NL Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Hamels threw 14 innings in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on his way to MVP honors. And he threw 13 innings in the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, also on his way to MVP honors.
That totals 262 1/3 innings -- 61 1/3 innings more than Hamels threw in his entire Minor League career.
It was a heavy workload for a pitcher whose only knock on him to this point is that he has had trouble staying healthy. So Hamels took a little longer to get started this offseason, which means he is a little behind his counterparts.
While Hamels readies himself for Wednesday's start, his teammates took off Tuesday. It was the team's first off-day since its first full-squad workout Feb. 17, which seems like an eternity ago to those in camp.
But while it might seem like an eternity, it is not. Not in the minds of the people who will decide how the Phillies' 25-man roster will look on Opening Day. They have only begun to form opinions about the players in camp.
Here is a look at how some of those competitions are going:
The fifth-starter's job: The four-man race among Happ, Carrasco, Kyle Kendrick and Chan Ho Park is shaping up to be a good one. But Dubee cautioned Monday that "the race hasn't started. We're getting out of the blocks pretty soon." In other words, throw out those early Grapefruit League numbers. But Happ has had good mound presence during his first two starts, and Carrasco has shown electric stuff. Kendrick, who Dubee named the favorite entering spring, was happy with the way he threw his first time out. Park has the most experience of the four, and Dubee has been impressed with the way he has worked this spring.
Best man at the end of spring wins? Maybe.
The bench: Forget about Nomar Garciaparra. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. ruled him out last week, and it appears Garciaparra is about to sign with the Oakland A's. If the Phillies feel they absolutely must have another right-handed bat for their bench -- they are left-handed heavy with Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs -- that person will be found in camp.
Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. entered camp as a player likely ticketed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, with a chance to help the team later this season. But he might be the biggest surprise in camp. Mayberry, who the Phillies acquired Nov. 20 in a trade with the Texas Rangers for Greg Golson, has hit .353 (6-for-17) with two doubles, one home run and five RBIs in camp. He has big league power, and Charlie Manuel and Milt Thompson have been working on his swing to make him a little more consistent. He also has shown he can run and play a little defense, too.
"Mayberry is incredibly athletic, very physical," Amaro said. "He's made some adjustments to his swing, and I think he took to it very well. He's a good kid. He's a coachable kid, and he's been a pleasure to have in camp. He's a pretty interesting player."
Infielder Marcus Giles was out of baseball last year, but he has looked good in camp. He is hitting .250 (2-for-8) with one double, one RBI and two stolen bases.
"He's shown a lot of energy," Amaro said. "It looks like he's poised to do what he can to be a big leaguer again."
Infielder Pablo Ozuna, a career .282 hitter in the Major Leagues, is hitting .625 (5-for-8) with a homer and two RBIs. Infielder Miguel Cairo is hitting .250 (3-for-12) with one double, one home run and two RBIs. The Phillies have also been giving a long look to Jason Donald. Manuel said recently that he thinks Donald is trying too hard at the plate, which might explain why he is 2-for-15 (.133) with one RBI.
Of course, the health of Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz will play a role in how the bench looks April 5. The Phillies remain "cautiously optimistic" both will be ready by Opening Day, but if one of them (or both of them) are not, that would open the door for others to make the roster.
Bullpen jobs: There are either one or two bullpen jobs available. If Park doesn't win a spot in the rotation, he will be in the bullpen, leaving one open spot. If Park wins the job, Happ could fill a role as a multiple-inning guy -- and give the Phillies another left-hander in the 'pen while J.C. Romero serves his 50-game suspension. Much like the battle for the rotation, it is too early to say anybody has stepped forward, but right-hander Gary Majewski has opened some eyes. He has allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out four in four scoreless innings.
Backup catcher: Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino are fighting to be Carlos Ruiz's backup behind the plate. Paulino has had just eight at-bats. Coste has had just one because of tightness in his hamstring (he is day-to-day). But with Ruiz gone to play for Team Panama in the World Baseball Classic, they should have their opportunities -- provided Coste can get back on the field.
"It's nice to see some of these guys compete," Amaro said. "But we've got a long way to go. Those serious discussions probably don't start until mid-March, when we've had a better chance to see these guys."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.