NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Coming off a 97-win season during which they did not utilize any of their three postseason starters through the first half of April, the Braves are not going to rush Cole Hamels. The veteran arrived to camp on Saturday cognizant of the need to remain patient while recovering from left shoulder inflammation.
“At this point, if I rush, I think it would take me a lot longer to get to 100 percent,” Hamels said. “I don’t think that is fair to the team, and it’s not fair to other starters who are champing at the bit to help the team win. It’s about coming in and making sure I’m a big part as opposed to a small one.”
After signing a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves in December, Hamels was anxiously looking forward to the chance to begin his next chapter with a new team. His anxiousness might have gotten the best of him in January, when a little more than a week’s worth of aggressive preparations led to the shoulder fatigue that will prevent him from beginning to throw again for at least two more weeks.
“It just kind of hit a point where I knew I couldn’t get past it,” Hamels said. “Soreness is good, but you have to know what soreness is good and what is bad. It was just kind of getting away from that comforting feel of knowing you’re pushing it, you’re getting better and you’re getting stronger. It was more toward that injury area.”
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear Hamels is dealing with a serious ailment. The 36-year-old southpaw has received treatment while resting near his Dallas-area home over the past couple weeks. Once Hamels is re-evaluated in early March, he’ll have a better sense of when he might be ready to make his 2020 regular-season debut.
Hamels might be in a position similar to the ones experienced in 2019 by Mike Foltynewicz, who didn’t debut until April 27 because of a right elbow bone spur, and Mike Soroka, whose debut was pushed back to April 18 because of right shoulder discomfort. Dallas Keuchel, the Braves’ other starter in last year’s National League Division Series, remained a free agent until early June.
Hamels’ absence could create opportunities for Sean Newcomb, Félix Hernández, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright, who stand as the top candidates to fill Atlanta’s two rotation vacancies. Wilson, Wright and Newcomb were in the rotation when the 2019 season began with three starters -- Soroka, Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman -- on the injured list.
“We want to make sure [Hamels] is right,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We want to make sure he is good. They have great programs in there with [the medical staff]. We’ve been patient before. We’ll be patient now. We’ll make sure he’s ready and right because when we get him back, we want him back.”
Hamels experienced the potential adverse effects of rushing back when he returned from an oblique strain last year as a member of the Cubs. The lefty produced a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before sustaining the injury and a 5.79 ERA in the 10 starts that followed. His struggles were influenced by left shoulder fatigue, which might have been a product of not being at full strength when he was activated.
“I need to come back and get results,” Hamels said. “They have extremely talented guys here. So to come in and take over a spot from a guy that is probably champing at the bit and very talented, you want to make sure you’re 100 percent and they’re going to get what they’re expecting.”