Hamels on opening day, Halladay in home opener?

Hamels on opening day, Halladay in home opener?
February 12, 2013, 3:45 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. – Is this the season that Cole Hamels will make his first opening day start?

He probably earned the honor by being the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher last season. He’s certainly the highest paid, having signed a six-year, $144 million contract, the largest in Philadelphia sports history, last summer.

On the eve of the first spring workout for pitchers and catchers, neither manager Charlie Manuel nor pitching coach Rich Dubee would say who their opening day starter would be. Roy Halladay has been the man the last three seasons, but he had a sub-par season in 2012, spent time on the disabled list and still has to be considered a health question mark until he shows otherwise in March.

Dubee did not rule out Halladay starting the opener. Cliff Lee would be another possibility.

A closer look at the situation points to Hamels or Lee getting the nod. That’s because Dubee likes to split the two lefthanders. The Phillies actually have three lefties this season with John Lannan joining Hamels and Lee. Halladay and Kyle Kendrick are righthanders.

Last year, the Phillies opened the season with Halladay. He was followed by Lee and righthander Vance Worley. Hamels pitched the fourth game of the season, the home opener.

Dubee indicated that he’d like to split his lefties again this season.

“It’s tough pitching Cole and Cliff on back-to-back days,” Dubee said. “They have similar looks -- Cliff’s a little bit more of a cutter guy while Cole is a changeup guy -- but we like to try to split up those two guys so that might be something we do before we get out of here.”

All things being equal, the Phillies could choose to open with Hamels, the homegrown talent who led the team with a career-high 17 wins last season. Going with Hamels on opening day would be a symbolic coronation of his rising to ace status. Then again, Lee could get the call based on his outstanding second half in 2012. But the hunch here is that the Phils would give Hamels his first opening day start. (He was actually slated to start the opener in 2009 before an elbow issue delayed his season debut that year.)

The Phils open the season April 1 in Atlanta. The big question is: Will the Phillies' decision-makers use Halladay against the Braves in the second game of the season? He had an 11.21 ERA in four starts against the Braves last season. If Manuel and Dubee wanted, they could start Kendrick in the second game against the Braves, go with Lee in the third game and use Halladay in the home opener April 5 against Kansas City. Yes, it would be unconventional, but this alignment would give the Phils a big name in the home opener and allow Kendrick the chance to face a team that he’s had success against. He is 7-1 with a 2.86 ERA lifetime against Atlanta.

We concede this is all a little premature -- a lot can happen in spring training to alter plans -- but it’s fun to think about on the day before the mitts start popping in Phillies camp.

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