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01/28/07 10:00 AM ET

Hamels ready to bust out in '07

Crafty lefty has ace-like stuff to lead strong Phillies rotation

PHILADELPHIA -- Brett Myers was widely considered the No. 1 pitcher on the Phillies' staff in 2006.

But Cole Hamels isn't too far behind, if you ask manager Charlie Manuel.

"I tell you what, this kid Hamels showed us all something last season," Manuel said. "He's got the potential to be a star if he keeps working at it. He kept us in ballgames just about every time he pitched, and he gained a lot of valuable experience. I think if he keeps working at it, the sky is the limit as far as his potential is concerned."

The 23-year-old left-hander was arguably the ace of the staff in the final month of '06. In 23 starts, Hamels was 9-8 with a 4.08 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings.

Over his final 12 starts, Hamels was an impressive 7-3 with a 2.70 ERA.

"I didn't feel tired at all," Hamels said Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies' Winter Tour. "I felt like I could have kept pitching. My arm felt good. My back felt good. My workouts were going well. I wanted to keep pitching in the playoffs. I didn't want the season to end."

Since the season ended, Hamels has continued to work on his conditioning, which includes strengthening his back.

"At this point last year, I could barely get out of bed with my back," said Hamels, who was selected by the Phillies in the first round, 17th overall, in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. "Right now, I feel great. I'm more excited about this year than I ever could be. I can't wait for Spring Training -- and not just to get out of the cold weather. I can't wait to get started."

Hamels will join a group of starters that includes Myers, Freddy Garcia, Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer and Jon Lieber. While Lieber could be moved before Opening Day, this group of starting pitchers is certainly as formidable as any in the National League.

"I'm a pretty low-key guy and I'm not going to say who the best starting pitching is in the league," Hamels said. "I know on this team we have a lot of talent. You can't argue that with the veterans we have here, plus myself and the addition of Freddy. I know this -- it's going to be exciting to see what happens."

As for Hamels, the biggest hurdle to clear is staying healthy for an entire season.

"They're going to count on me every five days and I know I need to be ready," Hamels said. "I pitched in big games last season and it was a great feeling. I want to experience that again and carry it over into the playoffs. I'm working like crazy to get ready for the season."

Manuel said that he's had some good conversations with Hamels about the upcoming 2007 season.

"He pitched a lot for us in the second half and showed what he can do," Manuel said. "We talked and he said he feels he can get a whole lot better. That's what I like to hear. He wants to work. His back is good. His arm is good. He's more experienced."

Hamels also looked as relaxed during the Winter Tour as he did on the mound at the end of '06.

"I was married on New Year's Eve," Hamels said.

Hamels married Heidi Strobel, who once competed on the reality TV show "Survivor."

"Some people joke with me that I'm a different person now that I'm married," Hamels said. "It's all in good fun. Seriously, it's a really comfortable feeling. I'm at peace at home. My life is great. Winning games and having a great season would really make this a special season."

Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.