Phillies camp report: Cole Hamels is still a believer

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Double-paned, sliding, storm … no pitcher in the majors is as well-versed in windows as Cole Hamels. You would think the Phillies lefty moonlights with a second job at Home Depot.

“I understand the window,” Hamels was saying on another sunny afternoon here. “An organization tries to put the best players together at their peak moments and they go out and win.

“But if you look at it in recent years, the people who keep winning the World Series are people who weren't even in that window.”

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The Giants last year after scooping up Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro midseason. The Cardinals two years ago after acquiring Rafael Furcal, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel (and trading Colby Rasmus). The Giants three years ago with in-season additions Cody Ross, Javier Lopez, Jose Guillen, Pat Burrell and, especially, rookie Buster Posey (recalled in late May).

The Phillies, winners of five consecutive NL East titles until 2012, thought they were going to be one of those teams that kept winning the World Series.

Now, with an infield more suited for the cover of AARP magazine than Sports Illustrated and with ace workhorse Roy Halladay showing signs of fraying around the edges, there is a serious, scholarly debate surrounding whether the Phillies' window of opportunity slammed shut last year … or whether it is primed to close for good in, oh, the next five minutes.

Hamels is having none of that.

He skipped free agency and signed a six-year, $144 million extension last July as a show of faith that one of baseball's most successful organizations over the past decade is smart enough to extend its winning window.

Instead of at least listening to what the newly rich Dodgers could offer, the Southern California native doubled-down on Philly.

“It's what I believe and what I know,” Hamels says. “Being able to see the inside outs of an organization first-hand. That's where you instill confidence.

“Nothing against the Dodgers. They're tremendous, too. But I don't know anything. I wasn't there. So I don't know how they're going to mix and match. They're selling things, buying things, I have no clue what's going on.

“Here, it's what I know. I was very comfortable with making the decision because I do know what they're going to do and what it takes to win.

“I've experienced it first hand.”

No small part of last season's fall from grace came because first baseman Ryan Howard, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and second baseman Chase Utley, plagued by chronic knee problems, combined for only 154 games and 654 plate appearances.

Both are far healthier this spring than last. But Howard is 33, Utley 34, shortstop Jimmy Rollins 34 and new third baseman Michael Young 36.

Is it realistic that each of these men will stay healthy and produce at the elite levels required by a legitimate contender?

“They're not that old yet,” manager Charlie Manuel insists. “They're 33, 34. Once you cross over to 35, 36, I'd be more concerned.

“Right now, I think Utley and Howard might put up career years. I think Michael Young is capable of putting up a big season. We have a good infield.”

Not everything new is old again. General manager Ruben Amaro dealt Pence and aging center fielder Shane Victorino last summer, so while old guys populate the infield, Phillies outfielders are still shopping at Toys 'R' Us.

New center fielder Ben Revere is just 24, with a world of potential in front of him (and a .294 batting average, .333 on-base percentage and 40 thefts behind him in Minnesota in 2012).

“It's hard to fill the role of what Victorino was, and how he was for us,” Hamels says. “Especially in center field. But I think Ben is going to do a really good job out there, and we've got a lot of confidence in him.”

Aside from staring at the incredible mountain of cash in front of him when Hamels was weighing his decision last July, the lefty viewed things from several other angles. He assessed those windows, whether they were still cracked or about to slam shut.

And he did not feel uncomfortable with leaving his fingers on the windowsill.

“I want to be a part of the organization and the city of Philadelphia because they still know how to win and they're still going to put out a team to win,” Hamels says. “I want to be on a winning team. That's the ultimate goal.

“I want to win. This was, I feel, the best chance for me to go out and win.”

Though he remains overshadowed by Halladay and Cliff Lee, it is Hamels who will shoulder the next great Phillies season, if this group still has one left in it.

He's 29. Halladay turns 36 in May, Lee 35 in August.

Hamels has worked 200 or more innings in four of the past five seasons, and punched in at 193 2/3 in 2009, the one recent season he didn't crack 200.

Back issues limited Halladay to 156 1/3 innings last summer, the first time since 2005 he didn't reach 200.

“Sometimes it takes guys to hit that next level, when their backs are against the wall,” Hamels says. “I think that's what's gone on.

“Because of where we are in our careers, our backs are kind of getting pushed against the wall. So we have to push back.”

First spring in what seems like forever, the Phillies are in that spot.

A situation that comes back to windows, and not the Microsoft kind.

“I think the organization has done a really good job,” says Hamels, who has been with the Phillies since they picked him in the first round of the 2002 draft. “I was here when they started to do everything. I feel like they're still doing a really good job of what they want to accomplish.

“They don't want to lose, and the city doesn't want to lose. I have a firm belief and understanding that they're going to do whatever it takes to keep a winner on the field because it's doing so well in that city.”

With one World Series ring on his finger, Hamels refuses to believe that it could possibly be better anywhere else.

“That's why I keep fighting for that next opportunity to be able to do it,” he says. “Words cannot even begin to describe what it was like to win. I just know you're on the highest high of any sort of level, athletic sports-wise.

“It's a fun place to be and you want to get back there.”

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