- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CLEARWATER, FLA. (AP) - Phillies ace Cole Hamels pitched in a minor league game Tuesday, his first start since experiencing elbow tightness last week.

The World Series MVP threw 3 2-3 scoreless innings against Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers at Philadelphia’s spring training complex. It was his first appearance in a game since receiving an anti-inflammatory shot in his arm last Tuesday.

“It felt good,” Hamels said after his first outing since March 15. “I think it was really just trying to establish feeling each pitch, one at a time, in each inning. And that was kind of the big thing _ how I’d feel in between innings. And I felt great.”

Hamels allowed one hit and one walk while striking out five of his 13 batters. The left-hander threw 35 of 48 pitches for strikes.

“Performance-wise, we thought he threw OK,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “It was a pretty positive outing.”

Hamels is tentatively scheduled to pitch in a Grapefruit League game Sunday against Boston.

If all goes well, Hamels would pitch again a day or two before opening day, meaning he wouldn’t be on the mound when the World Series champions open the season April 5 against Atlanta.

“I haven’t officially ruled him out, but I don’t think he’ll be ready,” Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “He won’t be stretched out. It would be a real long shot. From what I got today, it was a positive step. It was pain-free, or tightness-free, I should say. The velocity was a little better, so those were good things.”

Dubee’s early projection has Hamels making his first regular-season start in the Phillies’ fourth game, April 10 at Colorado. While he would love the honor of an opening-day start, Hamels is content with the alternative of not missing a turn in the rotation.

“I think that’s the best because I don’t want to miss a start,” Hamels said. “If I’m able to jump in line with our four guys and be the fifth guy, the fourth, third, second _ I don’t care. It’s just (about) knowing that after the season starts, we’re on that five-track schedule.

“Knowing that I’m going to go out there every five days and my teammates know that I’m going to go and be healthy, that’s really all that they can really ask for.”

The 25-year-old Hamels was 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in his third major league season for the Phillies in 2008. In the postseason, he led Philadelphia to its first World Series title since 1980 by going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts.

In the regular season and postseason combined, Hamels logged 262 1-3 innings _ the most of any pitcher in baseball. It marked the first season of his professional career that Hamels avoided a stint on the disabled list.

Notes:@ Philadelphia LHP J.C. Romero relieved Hamels in the minor league game, his first appearance since returning from the World Baseball Classic last week. Romero threw two perfect innings. … In Grapefruit League play, the Phillies rallied to beat the Blue Jays 7-6 in Dunedin. Chase Utley hit a two-run homer off Toronto closer B.J. Ryan in the seventh inning. It was Utley’s first home run since he underwent hip surgery in November. … Phillies pitcher Chan Ho Park stayed in the hunt for the vacant fifth spot in the team’s rotation. He allowed three runs and four hits while striking out seven and walking one in four innings. … Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins was the lone United States representative on the World Baseball Classic all-tournament team. He batted .417 with a home run during the WBC.

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