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Phils' Hamels gets a clean bill of health

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Scheduled opening-night starter Cole Hamels will return to Phillies camp today, his mind eased by an encouraging medical exam and his sore left elbow soothed by a cortisone injection.

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Scheduled opening-night starter Cole Hamels will return to Phillies camp today, his mind eased by an encouraging medical exam and his sore left elbow soothed by a cortisone injection.

Hamels, however, might not be scheduled as the Phils' opening-night starter much longer.

"Yep," said pitching coach Rich Dubee, acknowledging that Hamels' scheduled start against Atlanta in 18 days was in jeopardy. "It's probably a long shot."

Dubee did not make these remarks with frustration or regret in his voice. Just the opposite. He, like other Phillies officials, was happy to hear that tests performed on Hamels' elbow in Philadelphia yesterday showed no structural damage.

Hamels, 25, will resume his throwing program tomorrow. The ultimate call on his readiness for opening night will come closer to the end of the camp.

"We'll see when we get him up and going again," Dubee said. "We like our starters being ready to throw 100 pitches by opening day. He's at about 54 now, so he might need some more stretching out.

"If he's delayed a little, it isn't the end of the world. If we can make the right decisions now and have him for 150 games instead of 162, we'll take those 150 games and 32 starts."

Dubee would not say who the team's backup choice for starting the opener would be. Because of off days, the Phils could go with four starters until April 20, which would give Hamels time to build arm strength and flush the inflammation from his elbow if the Phils go that route.

If all goes well the next few days, Hamels could make a Grapefruit League start Monday or Tuesday, Dubee said.

"Obviously, him getting back on the mound will provide us with a better tell-tale," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of Hamels' schedule.

Before heading to Philadelphia to see team physician Michael Ciccotti, Hamels said he experiences some inflammation and soreness in his elbow every spring. He said it was a routine by-product of beginning to throw again. The inflammation and soreness, however, had been slow to dissipate this spring.

"We tried to get the inflammation out without an injection," said Scott Sheridan, the team's head athletic trainer. "It wasn't happening, so we sent him to Philly."

Hamels had an MRI exam and a dynamic ultrasound.

The inflammation, Sheridan said, is in the posterior lateral aspect of the elbow, not the inner part of the elbow, near the ulnar ligament. Problems with that ligament can lead to reconstructive surgery and a year on the shelf.

"There's no structural damage to his ligament," Amaro said. "In fact, there's no structural damage at all.

"It's pretty much the scenario we anticipated when we sent him to see Dr. Ciccotti. Any time a procedure like this has to be done, it's a concern. But relatively speaking, it's good news."

Amaro dismissed concerns that have been raised this spring about Hamels' lacking his usual velocity.

"He was progressing," Amaro said. "His arm speed was getting better. He wasn't going the other way. He wasn't deteriorating. His velocity is always down in spring training. He's not a very good spring-training pitcher, but when the lights go on, he's typically ready to go."

Attempts to reach Hamels yesterday were unsuccessful.

Hamels finished second in the National League with 2271/3 innings pitched last season and tacked on 35 in the postseason. In all, he made a 71-inning jump from the previous season. Some have wondered if the increase in workload is the cause of Hamels' problem.

"There's a multitude of reasons," Sheridan said. "Certainly you can look at the innings. You can look at all kinds of things. The fact of matter is it's there and we've got to do something about it. There's no need to speculate why it's there. We just need to treat it."

Hamels' positive checkup yesterday probably won't stop people from wondering if he is fully healthy.

Only getting back on the mound, in a major-league game, and being, well, the Cole Hamels folks are accustomed to seeing will do that.

There's still a chance Hamels could be on the mound for the season opener April 5.

Just don't bank on it.