CLEARWATER, Fla. - After Cole Hamels made his penultimate spring-training start on Thursday in Dunedin - throwing five shutout innings at the Toronto Blue Jays - Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was given the layup of layup questions.
Who will be your Opening Day starter, Ryno?
"It's a secret," Sandberg said coyly.
Actually, it's not a secret at all. It's just so obvious that the Phillies figured they didn' t have to announce it, as most major league teams are prone to do in mid-to-late March.
For the second time in the last 3 years, Hamels will get the Opening Day assignment. Pitching coach Bob McClure confirmed it before yesterday's game against the Detroit Tigers.
"Hamels and [Aaron] Harang," McClure said when asked how the rotation will be aligned to start the season. "We're not really sure on 3 and 4 yet, what order they'll be in."
Sandberg confirmed Hamels' assignment following yesterday's 4-4 tie with the Detroit Tigers.
It's the second career Opening Day start for Hamels, and his first since 2013. Cliff Lee started the season opener last season, when Hamels was backtracked in spring training after battling biceps tendinitis in the offseason.
Jerome Williams and David Buchanan, who are expected to follow Hamels and Harang, will have ample time to get situated. Both pitched over the weekend: Williams gave up six runs (four earned) in four innings against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers on Saturday, and Buchanan pitched in a minor league intrasquad game yesterday afternoon in Clearwater.
Buchanan allowed two earned runs on seven hits in six innings, striking out seven while walking none.
The identity of the fifth starter also remains a mystery. The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until Sunday, April 12 - the last of a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park against the Nationals.
They could choose to give Hamels an extra day, and have him pitch on the 12th with Unknown Starting Pitcher No. 5 taking the mound on April 11. But it doesn't sound like that's in McClure's playbook.
"[Hamels] will pitch on his fifth day," McClure said. "Coming out of spring training, there's a couple of times we've given him 6 days. But he's ready to go on 5 days. Our No. 1 guy will go on his fifth day."
If you're trying to win baseball games with an uncertain rotation, you could do a whole lot worse than send Hamels out every fifth day. So who will pitch in the fifth spot in 13 days?
McClure said Kevin Slowey, who is scheduled to pitch "two or three innings" in relief in Bradenton today, is a possibility. Sean O'Sullivan could be called up from Triple A. McClure also mentioned veteran reliever Jeanmar Gomez.
The second-year Phillies pitching coach didn't seem concerned with making sure a reliever is stretched out if that's the direction the team chooses.
"Gomez has only pitched two innings [down here], but he can go five; he's throwing enough," McClure said. "I don't see a problem with guys with resilient arms. When I got called up and thrown in the 'pen, about 10 days later I came in the second inning and pitched into the ninth. So if your arm is in shape, it's not really the innings as it is . . . it's more pitch count per inning. If you can keep that down, the ups and downs [each inning] don't bother you."
After Lee went down with an elbow injury, the pitcher the Phillies hoped would jump to the front of the line for a starting spot, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, failed for a second straight spring.
Gonzalez was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley yesterday morning.
The 28-year-old Cuban went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five games this spring. Gonzalez allowed 25 hits in 14 1/3 innings and opponents hit .385 against him.
"He had glimpses of really good stuff, really good fastball, mixture of pitches," Sandberg said. "He just needed to go and be consistent and just put together an outing and be consistent from the start of an outing to the end."
Gonzalez is in the second year of a 3-year, $12 million deal. The Phillies and Gonzalez originally agreed to a 6-year, $48 million contract, but the deal shrunk to $12 million after the righthander's physical.
Gonzalez dealt with shoulder issues last spring and was moved to the bullpen early into the 2014 season when he struggled as a starter.
"I still see him as a starter," McClure said. "He just has to get better command. You don't want to burn out your bullpen if a guy isn't commanding the baseball. If you have to take him out because he has command issues, what are you doing?
"We're all rooting for him. But it just didn't happen yet. Hopefully it will and it will give us more options if something happens. And we'll go from there."