ST. LOUIS - Before he sprained his left ankle last Tuesday, Cole Hamels had finally regained the velocity and ability to fool hitters that made him a World Series MVP last season. Now he expects to be ready to resume his season, pain-free and hoping for better luck.

The 25-year-old Phillies ace, who injured the ankle while fielding a bunt against Washington, threw a bullpen session yesterday. He also tested the injury by jogging and - most important to him - fielding bunts and covering first base. Hamels has maintained for days that he was ready to pitch but unsure if he could field his position.

Saying he was pain-free yesterday, Hamels declared himself ready to start Friday at home against Atlanta, and pitching coach Rich Dubee agreed. "Running and doing the cuts, I didn't feel anything," said Hamels, who wore a light wrap around the ankle during the workout and will do so for several starts. "The tape is really helping."

Before rolling his ankle on the infield grass, the lefthander had pitched 41/3 shutout innings against Washington, finally regaining the form that had eluded him for most of his first three starts.

"I'd been able to hit my spots with all three of my pitches," he said.

"I was able to throw effectively and able to see the misses that I'm accustomed to. Against Washington, I felt like I was really moving things around and I was able to keep them off balance."

But he did not last deep into the game, which has remained a lingering frustration.

"I'm very eager to get to 100 pitches," he said, adding that he could probably throw 90 on Friday.

"The way I was going, I could have thrown 100 pitches in six or seven innings, knowing I can actually relieve the relievers. That's why I'm here. That's why I like to compete and do my job, which is to pitch deep into ball games."

Hamels' ability to do so has been hampered first by inflammation in his left elbow and then by strange luck. In the start before he sprained his ankle, Hamels was forced to leave a game against Milwaukee after a Prince Fielder line drive struck his left shoulder.

The freak injuries were both frustrating and irritating for Hamels, but preferable to more serious potential maladies.

"I'd rather have these sort of injuries than, say, take one off the face, blowing your arm out, or blowing your knee out," he said. "I only missed one start, and I didn't have to go on the disabled list."