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Lee's Phillies teammates not rattled by threat of injury

Cliff Lee seems destined for elbow surgery, but Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon see it as a chance for someone to step up.

Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Cliff Lee climbed back atop a mound yesterday morning, 5 days after feeling pain in his left elbow.

The pain is still there.

"I got through it," Lee said. "There's still something there . . . If it starts to progress worse, then obviously that's a pretty telling sign. If it maintains how it is, then I'll keep going."

Lee remains ready to attempt to pitch through a tear of the common flexor tendon, with the very real possibility that the pain that he first felt 10 months ago never goes away and that his 2015 season will end before it has a chance to begin, with a corrective surgical procedure.

Regardless of what happens, Lee isn't going anywhere. He's not getting traded, not as a 36-year-old pitcher with a bum elbow and 13 starts under his belt in the last year.

But then there are his teammates, the fellow veteran pitchers who arrived to camp saying all of the right things, that they were ready to help the Phillies be a contender again, while keeping quiet on their inner desires, that they were eager to leave for greener pastures.

Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon would like to play elsewhere in 2015.

It's not a slight on the organization; it's the reality of two, in-their-prime competitive athletes. They saw the same reality in the Phillies this winter as everyone else: The front office if rebuilding, already trading away capable veterans; the team as currently composed isn't likely to finish anywhere but the bottom of the National League East in 2015.

With the real prospect of losing Lee for the season, you had to wonder whether Hamels and Papelbon would suck up a little truth serum in determining the team's near future and how they figured into that plan. Instead, both continued to pitch around the topic.

"He's one piece of the puzzle, and obviously a big piece for us," Papelbon said after throwing a scoreless inning against the Pirates in a 3-2 Phillies win. "You know, somebody is going to have to step up. Someone has to. Plain and simple. Good teams have people go down, and people gotta step up. That's basically what it boils down to."

And Hamels, the darling of the trade rumor mill for most of the winter?

"If a guy goes down, it provides another opportunity for a couple other guys," Hamels said. "I think the guys have to be ready, no matter what, even if it's a big-name veteran or it's a young guy. Every guy has to step up. That's kind of the game of baseball."

And so Papelbon and Hamels will continue to fight the good fight, taking their considerable talents to the mound in an effort to help the old local nine prove their doubters wrong. It's great talk and bulletin-board motivation material.

When the games begin - the real ones that count in April - the losses will mount, especially when you subtract Lee from the mix. The veterans will grow miserable. They'll look at the July 31 trade deadline the way most kids look at Dec. 25.

And during all of that time between now and then, they probably can't help but think about Lee. If Lee were healthy, he would be just like them, ready to move on and join a contender at some point in 2015.

But he cannot. Because he's injured. And all pitchers, including Hamels and Papelbon, inherit the same risk each time they cross the white line.

"Throwing a baseball is not natural," Hamels said.

"Anytime you step out there and throw a baseball," Papelbon said, "you have a chance or an opportunity for injury."

Despite those facts - look at the All-Star cast of pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery in the last few years alone - neither pitcher will take the mound scared this season. They won't worry about an injury that might or might not happen, one that could jeopardize their own ticket out of town.

"I don't think that way," Papelbon said. "I think, like, 10 minutes ahead of time, and the now. That's all I worry about."

"People deal with [injuries] every day, it doesn't matter what age," said Hamels, who is 5 years younger than Lee. "It's a matter of how you prepare for the game, how well you take care of yourself off the field, on top of how smart you are on the field. Guys deal with it all the time. We're playing a game in a small window, and you want to maximize your time as long as you can, and especially to be able to play at the highest level."

But Hamels also realizes his own window closes a little more with each passing year.

Second chance

Cesar Hernandez is out of options. If he does not make the 25-man roster before Opening Day, Hernandez would have to clear waivers before reporting to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

But the 24-year-old infielder did his part in the Phillies' 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. Hernandez went 1-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. With the Phillies trailing, 2-1, in the sixth, Hernandez followed a Ben Revere single with a double to fuel the come-from-behind win.

"It's a big spring for him," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "The way that he's playing, he's making a good case to be a part of the plan and a part of the puzzle."

Hernandez is 2-for-16 (.125) in seven games this spring. He's played second base regularly for Chase Utley, who continues to work his way back onto the field after spraining his right ankle in January.

"He's really doing a lot of good things," Sandberg said of Hernandez. "He's concentrating on his bunting and game awareness . . . He has a good bat. He's showing that here in camp."

One wrinkle in Hernandez's roster viability: He's not as versatile as most infield bench players. The Phillies tried to work him on the left side of the infield last year, but currently see him as a second baseman.