Entering spring training, the Phillies were set in four of their five starting pitching slots, with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot would be up for grabs between Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ, newly acquired Chan Ho Park, and prospect Carlos Carrasco. Kendrick and Carrasco have both struggled in limited action thus far, while Happ and Park have done nothing but impress. In fact, their duel might be making more headlines in Philadelphia if it weren’t for the fact that Hamels recently took a plane ride back home to get a tight left elbow examined.
Hamels insists that the “injury” is nothing serious and that he should be okay for his opening day start on April 5th against the Braves. Apparently, he feels fine while pitching and does not experience any soreness, tightness, or tenderness following an outing, but has slight discomfort in between innings. Many will be quick to point out his elevated workload and its role in this situation, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
In 2006, Hamels logged 181.1, 73% of which occurred at the major league level. The following season, Cole pitched a total of 190 innings including his lone postseason start against the Rockies. This past year, however, he combined 227.1 regular season innings with 35 more in the playoffs to surpass his 2007 total by just over 72 frames. In the process, his name found its way into several columns discussing the Verducci Effect, which theorizes that young pitchers experiencing a significant increase in workload are more vulnerable to injuries.
Despite Hamels’ insistence that the issue might be overblown, he is not going to risk his entire season in order to toe the rubber on opening day. If, for whatever reason, his left elbow has more damage than meets the eye, both Park and Happ will end up in the rotation to start the season, rendering their current competition moot. Unfortunately, this would not be a consolation for anyone outside of either Park or Happ, as the Phillies will need a healthy Hamels to have any shot of making the playoffs, let alone repeating.
This is not the first time Hamels has had to battle with the injury bug and CHONE seems to recognize this, suggesting that the World Series MVP will make just 29 starts. Despite the dropoff in playing time, his forecast calls for a higher strikeout rate while sustaining the walk rate, FIP, and strand percentage. Hamels is a true ace in every sense of the term, and despite both his and Amaro’s subtle hints at annoyance that this story is making plenty of headlines, even the slightest talk of ailments to the lefty is going to set the Phanbase into a frenzy of speculation.
If everything that has been said is 100% accurate, then Hamels will not miss any time to start the season, will kick off the entire major league baseball schedule, and cause a logjam in that final rotation spot, causing either Park or Happ to start the season in the bullpen. More updates as they come.