STRIDING THROUGH the Phillies clubhouse yesterday morning wearing gym shorts and sandals, Cole Hamels did not show any noticeable signs of the sprained ankle he suffered during the fifth inning Tuesday against the Nationals. There was no hint of a limp, no bandage wrapped around the joint, no hesitation in his gait.
But walking through a clubhouse and sprinting off a mound to field a bunt are different activities. So while Hamels labeled himself "a couple days away" from full strength, the Phillies have decided to proceed with caution, tentatively scheduling the lefthander's next start for Friday against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
"I've been fine walking," Hamels said. "It's not too bad. I'm a couple days away. I really am. I don't want it to be something where I can throw pitches but can't cover my position."
Before yesterday's game against the Mets was postponed, Hamels did not rule himself out for tomorrow in St. Louis, when the Phillies would have needed either him or a replacement.
But after the game was called, the club had the opportunity to push Hamels back until Friday while pitching the other four members in the rotation on their normal days.
Righthander Joe Blanton, who was supposed to pitch yesterday, will instead start tonight in St. Louis, righthander Brett Myers will pitch tomorrow, while righthander Chan Ho Park and lefthander Jamie Moyer will start against the Mets in New York on Wednesday and Thursday.
While pitching coach Rich Dubee said the team was not 100 percent confident that Hamels would be ready by Friday, the 9-day layoff between starts is expected to give the ace enough time to shake the remaining soreness in his ankle.
"We're still not sure," Dubee said. "But it gives us an opportunity to push him back the extra [few] days. We'll take advantage of it . . . Hopefully it helps greatly.''
Hamels threw a bullpen session on Saturday and reported mild soreness in his ankle when he dragged his foot on his follow through. But the biggest tests he must pass are in the batter's box and in the field, where he will have to show an ability to break from the plate and field his position.
"The big concern was trying to play my position and having to run," Hamels said. "I know I can put down a bunt, but I still have to run to first base. I can't just put down a bunt and walk to the dugout. If I was another team, I was bunting to me the first couple of times just to see how I do."
The other big question in the rotation was addressed temporarily when the Phillies labeled Chan Ho Park the starter for Wednesday.
After the righthander allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in the 7-4 loss to the Mets Friday, manager Charlie Manuel said he and Rich Dubee were planning to sit down and discuss changes that might need to be made to the pitching staff. Dubee said that conversation has yet to occur.
"When that time comes, we'll talk," Dubee said. "When Charlie wants to talk about it, we'll talk."
Park won the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong spring in which he struck out 25 batters and walked just two in 21 1/3 innings. But he has shown inconsistent command of his pitches through four starts in which he has pitched 20 innings, allowing a team-high 20 earned runs (8.57 ERA), while striking out 11 and walking 11.
Dubee said the difference is that Park has been less aggressive in the strike zone than he was in the spring.
"Spring training is a different bird, first of all," Dubee said. "That's why I don't evaluate guys in spring training. That's why I don't like guys competing for jobs in spring training. Spring training is not a true indicator. But I don't think [Park's] been as aggressive in the strike zone. He's got into a lot of good hitters-counts."
Closer Brad Lidge showed no ill effects from the scoreless ninth inning he threw Saturday, his first action after a week off due to inflammation in his right knee . . . The Phillies have not announced a make-up date for yesterday's game, which was their third rainout this season. *