LOS ANGELES - Ten weeks to the day that he announced he was behind schedule heading into spring training and unlikely to pitch on Opening Day, Cole Hamels will take a major league mound for the first time.
Hamels is starting his first game of the 2014 season tonight at Dodger Stadium opposite righthander Zack Greinke. It will be Hamels' first start in Los Angeles in almost 5 years, when he started Game 1 of the 2009 National League Championship Series.
"It's been a while," manager Ryne Sandberg said of seeing Hamels pitch in a game, period. "I'm anxious to see him. And I know he's anxious, too. It'll be good to see him out there."
Hamels missed the season's first 3 weeks with left biceps tendinitis, an injury he actually had in November while rebooting his offseason throwing program. The ailment backtracked his offseason schedule, which carried over to being behind schedule in February and March.
Hamels pitched in his first exhibition game in the last week of March, on the Phillies' final day of camp in Clearwater, Fla. He has made three starts at Class A Clearwater since then, looking sharper with each game.
Hamels gave up just two runs in his last two starts, registering eight strikeouts with one walk in 13 innings. He threw 95 total pitches last Thursday.
"He's been happy with [his progression], using all of his pitches," Sandberg said. "He'll be a little more amped up in this setting than down there, but he got his work in. He was really working on spotting his fastball, command with his fastball the last couple of outings, along with using all of his pitches."
Hamels declined to talk yesterday, as he has often in his career on days before he pitches. But he told reporters over the weekend that he's finally caught up with the rest of his teammates after 2 months of playing catchup.
"My workouts are pretty much what everybody else's are right now," Hamels said. "Now kick it in gear and increase the intensity and know these games actually matter. This is where I wanted to be the whole time. It's just unfortunate I wasn't able to break early and be with the team early."
Hamels is 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 career starts against the Dodgers (including postseason) and 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in four games at Dodger Stadium. The ballpark was also the site of one of the more memorable games of his career: He pitched the Phillies to victory in Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS, clinching the team's trip to its first World Series in 15 years.
Hamels hasn't had as much luck in his season debuts lately, however. Hamels is 1-4 with a 9.55 ERA in his first starts of the season since 2009. He hasn't pitched six innings or more in any of those five games.
The Phillies, meanwhile, entered play last night with a chance to reach the .500 mark in the 20 games they have played without Hamels in the rotation.
"There's something to be said about that," Sandberg said. "And we've had a chance to win other games, looking back. We've had some opportunities."
Chase Utley was out of the lineup last night. He had started 11 straight games since missing back-to-back games on April 8-9 while sick.
Utley had started 17 of the team's first 19 games.
"He's fine; just wanted to get him off his feet for a day," Sandberg said. "He was on his feet a lot in Colorado, 4-hour games, a lot of pitches thrown. Just part of it to keep everyone for the full season, to keep everybody healthy."
Utley entered yesterday second in the major leagues in hitting (.391). He was also in the top five in OPS (1.086, third), hits (27, fifth) and slugging percentage (.652, third).
The Los Angeles-area native also has had more success at Dodger Stadium than any opponent's ballpark in which he's played at least 10 games. Utley went into last night hitting .324 with a .392 OBP, 1.019 OPS and 24 RBI in 35 games.
Utley has eight home runs at Dodger Stadium; he's only hit more at Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark (nine in 30 games), Florida's old Landshark Stadium (10 in 60 games), Atlanta's Turner Field (10 in 83 games) and Ciitzens Bank Park (121 in 653 games).
"Yeah," Sandberg said of Utley's success in Chavez Ravine. "But it's also about the long season and the long haul."
Freddy Galvis started in place of Utley at second base. Sandberg also went with a righthanded option at third base, too, starting Jayson Nix in place of Cody Asche.
After striking out 10 and not walking a batter on Monday night, Cliff Lee has posted 12 games in his career with double-digit strikeouts and no walks. It's the fifth most in major league history, behind Randy Johnson (27), Curt Schilling (20), Roger Clemens (17) and Pedro Martinez (14). Lee has the most in Phillies history (10 games), one more than Schilling. Lee's 3.943 strikeout-to-walk ratio is sixth all-time (and fourth among modern-day starting pitchers). Lee has struck out 92 batters while walking only three in his last 10 starts . . . The Phillies will face the only active pitcher with a better career K/BB ratio in their last game at Dodger Stadium this week. Dan Haren (4.103) starts opposite fellow righthander Kyle Kendrick tomorrow night. After the first 3 weeks of the season, Haren looks to be a free-agent bargain. Haren, who signed a 1-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers this winter, is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four starts.