WASHINGTON - It turned out to be a pretty simple conversation between Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee and Cole Hamels late Tuesday night in the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park.

"Hey, we're looking at pitching you Sunday," Dubee said. "Are you ready to go?"

"I'm all set," Hamels replied.

The Phillies have decided to skip Kyle Kendrick's turn in the rotation Sunday so that Hamels can face New York Mets lefthander Johan Santana at Shea Stadium. It will be the last time the Phillies play the Mets this season, and the Phillies need every advantage they can get.

"I understood the situation," Hamels said. "I think this is a time that really matters. I know my body can handle it. Every five days. That's what I've been able to do all year."

Hamels is 12-8 and ranks first in the National League with 203 innings pitched and a .218 opponents' batting average. He ranks fourth with 174 strikeouts and sixth with a 3.01 ERA.

He has been the team's horse, which is a role he welcomes.

"Of course," he said. "That's the way I was in high school. You only have two pitchers, and one is your main guy, and that's what I was. You're the main guy when it's the playoffs, when it's the championship, when it's the big division rivalry. That's what I want. I think that's what I've been able to learn. I think it's finally that time to step up to the plate. I definitely know I'm ready for it, and that's what I'm going to do."

The whole issue with Sunday centered on Hamels' health and durability. The lefthander had spent time in each of the previous four seasons on the disabled list, and he had never thrown as many innings in a season as he has this year.

Hamels will not be pitching on short rest (less than four days' rest), since the team has an off day today. But he often has an extra day to rest; Hamels hasn't made more than three consecutive starts on normal rest this season.

Hamels first made a season-high three consecutive starts on normal rest July 3 to 13. He went 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in that stretch.

He went 0-1 with a 5.09 ERA in his following three starts.

But it also should be noted that when Hamels pitches on normal rest he has a 2.47 ERA in 16 starts. When he pitches on five days of rest or more, he has a 3.95 ERA in 11 starts.

Hamels and Dubee don't believe that's a coincidence.

"Routines are very important in this game," Dubee said. "I think as a starting pitcher you get in that routine in those four days between starts, there's certain things you do - you have your bullpen day, your legs day - and sometimes with too much rest guys get a little too fine or too amped up."

It is a fine line. Pitch Hamels on normal rest when he is most effective, or give him an extra day to make sure he can handle the workload for the stretch run.

The Phillies and Hamels think he can handle it.

"It's his regular turn," Charlie Manuel said. "We're not overextending him. From my standpoint, he definitely can handle it."

Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com. His blog: http://go.philly.com/phillieszone.