COLE HAMELS will make what is likely his final minor league tuneup tonight in Clearwater, Fla., against the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
Hamels will take the mound for Class A Clearwater for the third time in 12 days. His next start will likely come next week at Dodger Stadium, the second stop on the Phillies' upcoming, 10-game, three-city ,Western road trip.
"I'm optimistic," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
"It's a distinct possibility," assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said.
Hamels entered spring training behind schedule after battling biceps soreness when he rebooted his offseason throwing program in November. He suffered a setback during his spring rehab in early March.
But Hamels has progressed without issue in the last 6 weeks. In his most recent start, Saturday in Lakeland, Hamels allowed one run on six hits in six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. Hamels got a strikeout or a ground-ball out against 16 of the 22 batters he faced.
"He feels good," Proefrock said. "Everything's been very positive, so hopefully it will continue that way."
If he stayed on his normal day, Hamels would jump into the rotation on Tuesday. Since Cliff Lee is pitching Monday at Dodger Stadium, the Phils could also choose to split their lefthanders and give Hamels an extra day, bumping him to Wednesday and following A.J. Burnett in the rotation.
Either way, Hamels will be welcomed with open arms. Entering play last night, the Phillies' starting pitchers have been toward the bottom of baseball in several categories through the first 2 weeks.
Although the rotation's 4.05 ERA was among the top half of National League teams, seventh out of 15, they were averaging 5 2/3 innings per start entering yesterday, which was tied for the seventh-lowest mark in baseball.
Phillies starters also had a 1.61 WHIP (walks and hits per nine innings), which ranked second-worst in baseball, and a 2.03 strikeout-to-walk ration, which was fourth-worst. Opponents had an .832 OPS (second-highest) and a .360 OBP (third-highest).
With Hamels slotted toward the top of the rotation and Jonathan Pettibone, one of the bottom-of-the-rotation starters, joining the starting five, the Phillies can expect an improvement. It should also have a positive trickledown effect on the bullpen, too.
Entering play yesterday, the Phillies had a starting pitcher pitch into the seventh inning just twice in their first 13 games. Cliff Lee pitched a complete game last night.
"When you have a few starters going seven innings, you're talking covering two [innings], instead of three," Sandberg said. "That makes a big difference when you're looking at a week's worth of bullpen use. That's what we've been doing up until now."
Freddy Galvis made his second start in three games at third base in place of Cody Asche last night.
After missing the first 10 games of the season while on the disabled list rehabbing from a knee infection, Galvis could also pop into the lineup to give fellow infielders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley time off. Rollins and Utley both are 35, and Sandberg is aware that the occasional day off could help them during the course of the 6-month, 162-game season.
But with a couple of rainouts, scheduled off days and missed time for both infielders - Rollins for the birth of his daughter, Utley while out sick - Sandberg isn't in a rush to rest either this month.
"It's hard to tell at this early part of the season," Sandberg said of whether he had a plan on how often he'd rest his regular middle infielders. "I'll just go with some guys as it makes sense, to keep the bench guys sharp. Like a guy like [Tony] Gwynn [Jr.], he just got four starts in a row, he should be good to go off the bench in any capacity . . . So just to keep those guys fresh every now and then as the schedule goes along and [when] it makes sense to give guys days off, we'll do it that way."
The Phillies signed former first-round pick Adam Loewen to a minor league contract. Loewen, 30, is a former pitcher who has spent the last five seasons playing as a first baseman and outfielder in the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets minor league systems (.263 with .355 OBP, 57 HR in 623 minor league games). He last appeared in the big leagues with the Blue Jays for 14 games in 2011. Loewen, a 6-6 lefthanded pitcher out of high school, was the fourth overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2002. Thirteen picks later, the Phillies selected a high school lefthander, too: Cole Hamels . . .
Darin Ruf (oblique/rib cage) has begun baseball activities in Clearwater and is expected to get cleared to begin hitting next week. The outfielder/first baseman, who has been sidelined since March 20, remains on the 4-to-6-week timetable the Phillies gave at the time of his injury, according to Scott Proefrock . . .