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02/14/09 2:40 PM EST

Phillies tab Hamels for Opening Day

World Series MVP eager to defend Philadelphia's championship

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In the past, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel liked to keep everybody guessing, even when the answer seemed obvious.

Opening Day starter, Charlie?

"We'll see," he said in previous years.

Know your Opening Day starter yet, Charlie?

"We haven't decided on that," he maintained, just a week or two before the season started.

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Of course Manuel knew. It's just that he chose not to say. Asked Saturday if Cole Hamels would start on Opening Day -- April 5, against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park -- Manuel paused for a split-second.

"Yeah, you might as well go ahead and pencil him in," Manuel said. "I don't think there's any sense in me playing games. Go ahead, pencil him in."

Hamels not only went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in 33 starts last season, but he earned National League Championship Series and World Series Most Valuable Player honors. He proved to be a big-game pitcher last October, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts.

Hamels was the only candidate to start Opening Day, so Manuel figured, "Why not make it official? Why pretend not to know?"

"That's awesome," Hamels said. "I think that's great. But truly, I know that I have to be fully healthy and ready to go. There's no way I'm going to go in there [ready to give] half of what I know I'm capable of doing. I want to win. I want the team to start off right.

"So if I'm not feeling right and I need a couple extra days, I will definitely pass it down to anybody. I'm all about benefiting the team. But with him saying that, that's my goal. That's what I'm going to strive for -- April 5. Be as healthy as I can, be as strong as I can and go out there and win the first game."

But while Hamels is excited, he said it won't beat starting Game 1 of the World Series.

"It won't -- I know it won't," Hamels said. "It never will. I think starting Game 1 of the World Series is pretty much the top. I'd like to do that this year. I'd rather be the No. 1 starter for the World Series. Then I'm happy. Now, we've just got to get there."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.