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No Assurance Hamels Is Healthy

I normally don’t cite Bill Conlin, usually because he offers almost nothing groundbreaking in his columns. But his most recent, seen here, brings out a few points worth mentioning.

The crux of the piece is that Pat Gillick isn’t to blame for the lack of movement at the trade deadline. No, Conlin says, blame the ownership (duh) and the fact there’s not much of a farm system to work with (double duh). He also implies the Phillies will be horrendous after Gillick exits at the end of the season. Sorry, Bill, but I’m not writing off the foundation of Utley/Howard/Rollins/Burrell/Hamels just yet.

That leads me to the pitcher in that foundation — Mr. Hamels. Somewhat buried in the column is this little snip:

“They brought up J.A. Happ a second time. Nobody can figure to do what. After two solid starts during Brett Myers’ therapeutic odyssey through three minor league levels, the 6-6 Happ is back, but without anything close to a defined role. Anybody else hear the tick-tick-tick of the annual Cole Hamels DL stay fast approaching?”

That’s not the first time a member of the media has brought up Hamels and the DL. Howard Eskin blabbered earlier in the week that Hamels had an elbow injury. While I and almost everyone takes what Eskin says about the Phils with a half grain of salt, the evidence has piled up.

Hamels’ last two starts were two of his worst this season. He gave up nine runs to the Braves July 26, then five to the Cardinals Friday night. For the first time since May 31 he failed to go seven innings.

He has also logged 160 innings so far this season, a somewhat magic number, as last season he was at 160.2 innings before his final start preceding an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month.

Hamels has denied being hurt. Of course he has. Hamels is a perfectionist, from what we’ve seen, and would never want to admit he’s not doing his job correctly. And he cares about his statistics, his accolades, his money. Pat Gillick said that the team hasn’t negotiated a long-term contract with Hamels because he has yet to pitch a full season without injury. Why would Hamels want to admit injury and go on the DL again? That would keep him from more money.

And it is possible the Phillies know Hamels is hurt and have Happ ready as the contingency plan. It’s possible they’re going to let Hamels try to shake it himself. Looking at how the Phils have handled injuries, they seem to wait until a guy is less than 50 percent before declaring a problem. It’s very likely they’re thinking he can snap out of the pain and return to form. Why risk losing the most important part of the rotation now?

All this is obviously cautionary talk, and none of it is completely base. (We have to remember this.) But we know Hamels’ history, we know his mindset, we know the recent past. We can’t rule out an injury, and as each day turns, it’s becoming even more likely it’s the truth.

Bottom line — his start Thursday against Florida will determine if there is a problem.

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