King Cole can relate to the Material Girl. Phillies ace Cole Hamels, 25, and his wife, Heidi Strobel, are working to adopt a child from Ethiopia after the process in Malawi proved too onerous.

Last week, Madonna endured a highly publicized rejection in Malawi. Having traveled to the African nation with intentions to adopt, the pop music icon was rebuffed. She left the country yesterday without a child.

Hamels and his wife know the feeling. After becoming frustrated last year with Malawian rules requiring adoptive parents to first live in the country for 18 to 24 months, they decided to initiate the paperwork to bring an Ethiopian child to the United States.

"We were in the same situation as Madonna, and there is no way we could live over there for two years," Hamels said. "It shouldn't be so hard to try to give someone a better life. The government in that country, it's shady."

Ethiopian rules require only a nine-month waiting period. "We're working through a stack of paperwork this thick," Hamels said, holding his thumb and forefinger several inches apart. "But this is something we've always wanted to do, to help someone less fortunate."

Southpaws in the pen

Even without lefty J.C. Romero, suspended 50 games for violating the league's substance policy, the Phillies begin their season with three lefthanders in the bullpen: Scott Eyre, J.A. Happ and Jack Taschner. Although roles could change depending on performance, the team will likely use Happ as a long reliever, Taschner as a situational lefty early in games, and Eyre in the late-inning role held by Romero last year.

"Scott Eyre, he could wind up [facing] some lefties in the eighth inning," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Happ, who lost the competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation late in spring training to Chan Ho Park, said he was refocused and excited to be in Philadelphia.

"It's a lot better wearing the big-league uniform than the triple-A uniform," he said, adding that he did not think relieving and starting would be dramatically different. "It's just your routine that's different," he said. "At first, it'll just be about pitching effectively, and then we'll see what it turns into."

Taschner was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1999 and spent his entire career with that organization until the Phillies acquired him for catcher Ronny Paulino on March 27. "For the first time in my life, I don't care what my role is," he said yesterday, speaking rapidly and admittedly thrilled to be with a World Series-defending team. "Whether it's the late or early innings, I'm happy to be here."

Victorino bats sixth

Manuel batted rightfielder Jayson Werth second and centerfielder Shane Victorino sixth last night. Because of his participation in the World Baseball Classic, Victorino saw only 50 Grapefruit League at-bats. Late in spring training, Manuel expressed repeated frustration that many of his regulars had failed to attain the 65 at-bat threshold the manager feels is necessary to be prepared for the regular season.

Victorino had not found his rhythm, the manager said. "He didn't get a lot of at-bats in spring training, and he hadn't been swinging real good. Werth had a good spring and he hit second quite a bit last year."

Cautious approach

Manuel said yesterday that although second baseman Chase Utley (hip surgery) and third baseman Pedro Feliz (back surgery) were in the opening-night lineup, the team will be cautious with them in April, perhaps granting each the occasional day off.