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Hamels fast-forwards to Triple-A04/24/2006 8:22 PM ET
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies' most prized left arm has leapt two giant steps closer to the big leagues.
Cole Hamels has left Class A Advanced Clearwater to bunk at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, passing Double-A Reading along the way. From there, he's roughly two hours from Citizens Bank Park.
Or more importantly, one phone call.
"Because of the time he's missed, we wanted to accelerate him, and felt the best way to do that was to put him against more experienced Triple-A hitters," said Mike Arbuckle, the team's assistant general manager of scouting and player development. "We've never had a question about ability or command; it's just been health."
Health was the main factor in Philadelphia's decision to begin Hamels' season in warm Clearwater, Fla., rather than colder Pennsylvania, and the Florida State League hitters paid the price. The left-hander compiled a 1.77 ERA in four starts and struck out 29 in 20 1/3 innings.
That was enough to earn him the promotion. He's scheduled to make his first start for the Red Barons on April 27 against Norfolk, the Mets' Triple-A team.
"He's ready for a challenge to get out to a different environment, with more people in the park, with better caliber of players that he'll face," Arbuckle said. "He's ready to do those things. In his mind, he was ready a few months ago, but we thought it made more sense to wait."
The Phillies have no choice but to be patient with their first-round pick from the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. The talented lefty has pitched just 152 professional innings since 2003, and only 35 of them came with Clearwater and Reading last season.
Quality isn't the issue. It's a matter of increasing the quantity.
Confidence won't be a factor, either.
"Any kid who's competitive like Cole is, thinks he should be here yesterday," Arbuckle said. "If there's a blessing out of him starting slow out of the chute this year, this may be it because in big-league camp, no matter what we told him, he was going to show up he should open in Philadelphia. He's beginning to understand that he can't worry about tomorrow. He's got to take it game-by-game, and the results will speak for themselves. If his ability is what we think it is, the opportunity will be here, sooner rather than later."
As in this season?
"It may be sometime this year," Arbuckle said. "I don't think we're talking about something way down the road."
Chris Booker is also knocking on the door to the big leagues, as he joined Hamels at Triple-A.
The righty started the season on the disabled list with left knee inflammation, brought on when he was slow to recover from offseason surgery. The 29-year-old has overpowered FSL hitters, whiffing 20 in 10 innings against two walks.
On a rehabilitation assignment that ends May 11, Booker must either be added to Major League roster by that date, or be offered back to the Nationals for $25,000 -- assuming, of course, he doesn't suffer another injury.
The Phillies acquired him in December, thinking he could be a sixth- or seventh-inning pitcher, and they like his ability to record strikeouts. With his knee OK and his velocity improving, a promotion was the natural next step.
"We need to get some looks at him and make a decision," Arbuckle said. "This will give us a better reading. We want to get him ready to go, because we believe he can help us at the Major League level. He understands that's the circumstance."
Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Yoel Hernandez, who has a 2.00 ERA and six saves for the Red Barons. Arbuckle said he's returned to pitching aggressively.
"He's another guy in the picture who's a candidate if we need a pitcher," Arbuckle said.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.