Hamels sharp as quest for World Series begins

Hamels sharp as quest for World Series begins

February 23, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Spring Training Schedule

Feb. 25, Tigers at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Feb. 26, Yankees at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Feb. 28, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 3, Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 5, World Baseball Classic, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 6, Nationals at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 7, Twins at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 12, Tigers at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 14, Pirates at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 17, Orioles at Phillies, 1 p.m., CSN

Mar. 19, Yankees at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 22, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 26, Rays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 28, Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN

Mar. 29, Blue Jays at Phillies, 7 p.m., TCN

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Team USA officials asked Cole Hamels to pitch in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

He politely declined.

He’s saving his bullets for the fight for the National League East crown and battles beyond.

“I don’t think it’s the smartest thing for pitchers to do,” Hamels said of the WBC. “You don’t see any of the big-time guys there.

“Ultimately our goal is to win a World Series, not the WBC.”

Hamels began his quest to win the 2013 World Series with two shutout innings against Houston in the Grapefruit League opener Saturday at Bright House Field. The lefthander, who turned 29 in December, allowed one hit and struck out a batter. He said he felt good physically.

Hamels signed the richest contract in Philadelphia sports history last summer -- six years, $144 million. The Phillies’ pitching staff is now his to lead. So said none other than Roy Halladay, who has two Cy Young Awards and 10 opening-day starts on his resume. Earlier this week, Halladay endorsed Hamels for this year’s opening-day start.

“He’s probably the best guy you could ever try to emulate,” Hamels said of Halladay. “I have a lot of respect for him. It’s nice to hear that because he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

Manager Charlie Manuel hasn’t named his opening-day starter yet, but he’s expected to go with Hamels. As Halladay said, “His time has come.”

For the record, Hamels doesn’t care when he pitches. He just wants to make 30-plus starts – and more in the postseason.

“Opening day is one game, one appearance, and then you’re back into the normal baseball atmosphere,” Hamels said. “I’ve never really looked at it as this big sort of ordeal. I’ve always valued the playoffs.

“When you have to lead off a playoff series -- I think that’s pretty important. I think that’s kind of where it’s at.”

The Phillies missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last season. There seems to be an urgency to return to the playoffs this season. Players don’t seem to be just giving it lip service. They are talking about being better leaders. Ryan Howard has been picking Mike Schmidt’s brain about hitting. (Schmidt says Howard seems to be legitimately receptive for the first time.) Jimmy Rollins says he’d be willing to give up the leadoff spot if it makes the team better -- though Manuel is sticking with him.

“I sense a real hunger,” said Schmidt, a guest instructor in camp. “I think the Phillies over the last few years have been tremendously humbled. We are in spring training right now and we are no longer the mighty Phillies. There’s work to do to become the mighty Phillies once again.”

The clock is ticking on this team. Halladay, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are in the final year of their contracts. Hamels senses the urgency.

“We all have to step up and take a role and a presence in this team and get back to what we’re capable of doing, which is winning,” said Hamels, who agreed with teammate Jonathan Papelbon’s assessment that the team lacked leadership last season.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency here. If you don't have that in this game, you're not going to last long. The organization isn't going to be happy, the city isn't going to be happy.

“With the injuries we had last year we kind of lost the path that we were accustomed to, on top of having teams in the division playing very well. So we have to get that urgency back and get back to playing the baseball we're capable of playing."

Hamels won a career-high 17 games last season and finished with a 3.05 ERA, eighth-best in the NL. He had a career-high 216 strikeouts in 215 1/3 innings. He ranked sixth in the league in Ks per nine innngs and seventh in WHIP. Hamels was the World Series MVP in 2008 and the consensus around baseball is he’ll win a Cy Young Award one of these days.

This could be the year.

“I'd be lying if I didn't say it would be nice to have one,” Hamels said. “But I would trade Cy Youngs for World Series rings any day of the week, and I think (Cy Young winners) Cliff (Lee) and Roy would too. That's the reason why we play baseball -- to win championships, not a plaque to put on the wall."

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