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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- One by one on Thursday, Phillies players approached first-base coach Davey Lopes, who is preparing for prostate cancer surgery.
Whether it was a hug, handshake or pat on the back, every player wanted to express goodwill toward a member of their tight-knit family who is facing a serious operation. Lopes chose not to speak about the surgery, which is expected to take place later this month.
"We're hoping he comes back as soon as possible," starter Cole Hamels said. "I know he'll beat this and be strong again."
Hamels spoke as one of the many players helped by Lopes' influence, and not because the ace lefty wants to improve his base-stealing acumen.
Lopes, who stole 557 bases in his 16-year career, was helping Hamels prevent
"He knows so much about the game, and he helped me with my pickoff move," Hamels said. "That's something I'd like to work on. It's crucial to keep guys close to the base."
What did he learn?
"You want to keep the same mannerisms, and with me, I know it's a lot of leg movements," Hamels said. "I don't get the same leg height when I go home. That's something I'm going to focus on. That's a huge weapon."
The belt returns:
Ryan Howard couldn't wait to rub it in.
"Young James [Jimmy Rollins] had his time, but the belt has returned to its rightful place," Howard said. "It feels good to be on top."
Reclining in his chair on Thursday morning, Howard recalled the events of the previous night's weekly bowling challenge, when he and teammates Brett Myers and Shane Victorino wrestled the championship belt from a team headed by Rollins. A makeshift belt, awarded to each week's winner, had been moved from the locker of last week's champion, Rollins, to Myers' locker.
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Four teams rolled on Wednesday night in a pool-style tournament. The top two teams played in the winner's bracket, with the bottom two facing off in a consolation round. Myers' 279 helped propel Howard's team to the title.
"I struggled with the seven pin all night," Howard said, "but Brett brought it home for us. He took it all the way."
In last week's challenge, Howard's squad lost to Rollins', but took solace in taking one game in the best-of-three competition.
Because of Thursday's rain-shortened game, the Phillies and Rays will play an additional three innings after Friday's game at Progress Energy Park. J.C. Romero, who didn't pitch in Clearwater, will likely throw in St. Petersburg.
Hamels is scheduled to make his second start of the spring against the Rays at 1:05 p.m. ET, with top prospects Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman also scheduled to pitch. Right-hander Jeff Niemann will start for Tampa Bay.