Former Phillies ace Hamels feels healthy, eyes 2023 comeback

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Former Philadelphia Phillies ace and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels is plotting a comeback for 2023.

Hamels, who turns 39 this month, hasn’t pitched since he made one start for the Atlanta Braves in 2020. The left-hander signed late in the 2021 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers but never pitched because of arm issues.

Hamels isn’t ready to retire.

He said he had three surgeries over the last year — to his left shoulder, his right knee and his left foot — to address lingering injury concerns that he said affected his production in recent years.

“So just understanding what was kind of wrong, getting it fixed and then actually being able to rehab it, just kind of addressing the right areas and not trying to overcompensate, I think has kind of helped,” Hamels told The Associated Press by phone on Friday.

Hamels, who said he’s hitting 87 mph in bullpen sessions near his Texas home, hopes to latch on for a spring training deal. He went 163-122 with a 3.43 ERA and struck out 2,560 batters over 15 seasons with the Phillies, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Braves.

In his last full season in 2019 with the Cubs, he went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA.

Hamels, who made nearly $211 million in the majors, last pitched on Sept. 16, 2020 with the Braves, going 3 1/3 innings at Baltimore and allowing three earned runs. Hamels was placed on the 60-day injured list not long after he signed with the Dodgers.

Hamels said his Dodgers stint was “one of the most embarrassing things for me” because he felt he let down the organization. He signed not long after he appeared healthy at a showcase for teams in Texas.

“Trying to pitch with a lot of the (shoulder) damage for the last couple of years, and not really knowing the severity until they opened me up and had to go fix it, they didn’t know how bad it was,” Hamels said.

Hamels said he’s no longer in pain following surgeries to repair a torn meniscus and a pinched nerve in his foot.

“I think all teams, they all knew about it,” he said. “But I could just get through it. I could play. But with everything kind of happening it was getting worse and worse and worse. I couldn’t push. I couldn’t barely sleep. It’s hard to train when you’ve got body parts that are not doing what they’re supposed to do to allow you to do what you want to do.”

Hamels attended playoff games during the Phillies' run to the World Series this year and he caught a ceremonial first pitch before Game 3. Hamels was the first pitcher in major league history traded during a season immediately after throwing a no-hitter — he no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field in his last start for the Phillies on July 25, 2015.

The 2008 NLCS MVP was an integral part of the greatest run in franchise history when the Phillies won five straight NL East titles, two pennants and one World Series from 2007-11. He was 114-90 with a 3.30 ERA in 10 seasons with the Phillies and went 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 postseason starts with them.

“I want to be in the big leagues and I want to go the playoffs,” he said. “That’s where it’s at.”

The Phillies seem set in their rotation with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez and recent free-agent addition Taijuan Walker.

Hamels said he wants to start — he made 422 starts in 423 career games — but is “not opposed” to pitching out of the bullpen.

“A spring training invite is no risk, all reward,” he said. “If you start me out in February, I’ll be ready by April 1. Or I’ll know exactly I can’t do it, and I will be the first one to admit, nope, I had a great career. I can hang it up and be proud of what I did.”

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