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Phils' Hamels finally has healthy spring
03/24/2006 9:36 PM ET
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A day earlier, the Phillies told Cole Hamels of their intention to start him at Class A Advanced Clearwater, taking advantage of the warmer Florida weather.

So it was fitting that Hamels' start Friday came on a windy Clearwater day, where temperatures reached 60 degrees. While that's still not Reading or Scranton in April, it's not exactly Florida, either.

"I'm not really used to that, but I can't control weather," said Hamels, with a laugh. "You have to work through it, and do the best you can. I'm sure it's a lot cooler in the summer, but what can I do? I just dealt with it."

A few cool afternoon breezes and a subpar outing didn't dampen Hamels' spirit, especially not during his first healthy Spring Training in three years. Two years ago, he hurt his elbow playing catch, and last season, he injured a finger on his left hand in a bar fight.

That kept him out until June, then back problems ended his season in July after just three Double-A starts. A winter of rehab and extensive regular work this spring -- up to four hours a day on strengthening exercises -- have kept him healthy.

"I've felt better this spring than I ever have," he said. "The main thing is I've learned a lot, in terms of what I can do [to stay healthy]. I wake up feeling good every morning, and have that confidence, which is the most important."

As far as starting with Clearwater vs. Reading or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Hamels understands the big picture, even if that means working his way back up.

"It just makes you work harder," he said. "Nothing is easy anyway. You have to work through it. Obviously, you set goals. It's frustrating at first, but you have to take a step and look at the situation, and their plans. The main thing they've stressed is for me to get innings down here. All I can do is work as hard as I can to show them I'm ready for the next level. My main goal is Philadelphia, and I'll do whatever it takes to get there."

Hamels said he's gained valuable experience from veterans regarding what it takes to stay healthy.

"Waking up all last year hurt was a miserable feeling, and I don't want to do that again," he said. "Playing baseball is much better than being in the trainer's room. Hanging out with the guys here have taught me so much about what guys go through during the season, and in the offseason. I plan on being here a while a long time and I wanted to learn how to take care of myself."

Shaking off the rust: Eude Brito knows about staying fresh amid a long layoff, and cited his 16 days of inactivity after being called up during his 2005 rookie season.

He's been battling through similar issues this spring in his quest to make the Phillies. Like Robinson Tejeda, Brito barely pitched for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and he is trying to play catch up to steal the final bullpen spot.

"I've been working hard," he said. "I know I have to make the team, but I'm not rushing myself."

Brito looked rusty in allowing four runs -- three earned -- in two innings against the Pirates, on five hits. He said he's prepared for anything.

"I'm prepared to be wherever they want," he said. "I want to make the team, but if it doesn't happen, and I go to Triple-A, whenever they give me the chance, it's fine."

Still here: The first cuts came at the beginning of March, and Yoel Hernandez's locker plate was still intact. The second cuts came and went. And still, there was Yoel.

The third and fourth cuts?

"I'm very surprised I'm still here," said Hernandez, who pitched a majority of the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, posting a 6-4 record and three saves in 40 games. "Usually, I go down early. I'll try and do my best to make the team."

Hernandez knows he's far from out of the woods, as he's battling with Rule 5 Draft pick Chris Booker, Brito, Aquilino Lopez, Ricardo Rodriguez and Tejeda for what appears to be one open spot in long relief.

Hernandez has a 2-1 record with a 6.75 ERA in eight innings pitched, allowing 18 total base runners. The 25-year-old opened some this winter pitching for the Zulia Aquilas in the Venezuelan Winter League. He saved 11 games and finished 12 others, posting a 2.20 ERA, whiffing 33 batters and walking nine in 32 2/3 innings.

If Hernandez doesn't crack the Major League bullpen, he'll return to Scranton and wait for a phone call. With the Red Barons in 2005, The right-hander logged 55 2/3 innings and struck out 52 while compiling a 3.40 ERA. All of his 53 appearances at three Minor League levels came in relief.

He wouldn't mind following the path traveled by Tejeda, who accelerated his ascent to the Majors by opening eyes in the winter of 2004.

"I opened some eyes in winter ball," said Hernandez. "I pitched good in closing games. I think I did pretty good down there."

Briefly: Jon Lieber worked six innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, throwing 91 pitches. He's on target to start Opening Day, on April 3, against the Cardinals.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.