By Bill Campbell
Hold the phone on Cole Hamels.
At this point, we have no idea when, or accurate sign on the condition of the left handed Phillies pitcher. Last month’s report in the early days of spring training about his “tired arm” raised concerns. Within a week or so, the media almost intimated that his arm was ready to fall off. Then it seemed that he had recuperated and both the team and the pitcher agreed that his southpaw was merely a bit out of sorts, a temporary thing that could be cured by rest and a step back from the schedule. New pitching coach Bob McClure reassured the press as to Hamels delayed start. Now we’re hearing more serious news about Hamels. From “just needing some rest” the news has graduated to “may not be ready for April”. In fact, the media reports that Hamels may not be available until May. The underlying question here is, if not April or May, when?
If the team is saying that he can’t be ready for the start of season 2014, can’t make it to the mound until May or later, it sounds to me like there’s a chance that Cole Hamels could conceivably miss most – that is June, July, August and maybe all, of 2014. The Phillies would be sorely handicapped without Hamels and would be significantly tested in trying to compete in their division, let alone in their league. While this week’s reports indicate Hamels is throwing again, the news seems tentative and not at all reassuring about the lefty’s future.
The Phillies appear to have filled in some weak spots but problems remain, especially in their bullpen. Filling out that part of the roster with players who can carry them into the later innings where most games are won and lost is another concern. If Hamels is seriously injured, the Phillies could be in need of some solid assistance sooner than anyone thinks. With the possibility of such a significant hole being created in the pitching rotation, some “fringe” player s might be pushed into play. The team really does not appear prepared for that situation. So the news on Cole Hamels, whatever it may be, is crucial to the team this season.
I happened to notice that Steve Mason has started as the Flyers goalie in 10 of the last 11 games the Flyers have played since January 25th. That’s his highest number of starts this season, passing the 7 out of 8 games that he played last December. He wasn’t relaxing much over that 16-day Olympic break but it must have given him a chance to catch his breath. Mason’s workload will continue with Ray Emery on the shelf again, officially listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. In a strange way, the timing of Emery’s injury has been at a time when the Flyers’ fortunes have improved. They started the post-Olympic term with a span of 9 days in which they played only 2 games, one in Toronto on the road and the other at home against New Jersey. Both were losses. After this, they have 17 games left over the next 30 days. Coach Craig Berube said, “I think the games are stretched out enough here, so I think [Mason will] be fine. Hopefully, Ray [Emery] gets better and gets back in. It’s not busy right now, but it’s going to get busy after this week.” Emery’s injury is not related to the degenerative hip disease diagnosed in 2010 and which required risky bone-graft surgery. He did practice with the team early this week but reinjured the present injury while practicing which forced the team to call up Cal Heeter from the Phantoms. He backed up Mason for both games last weekend but went back to Glen Falls, N.Y., when it appeared that Emery had healed. “I’ve put a lot of miles on my car, but I’d drive back and forth every day if they needed me to,” Heeter said after his first practice yesterday. “I’d like to get one [game]. But I know the team is fighting to make the playoffs. I understand that’s more important than developing a player for the future. If I get the opportunity to play, I’ll be ready, but if I don’t, I’ll understand why.”
When Paul Holmgren hung up his phone last Wednesday, the NHL trade deadline, there was a sense of contentment in the Flyers main office. The thinking was that this crop of players has earned the final 6-week sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs as an already-assembled band of brothers. Holmgren had to have been asking himself why he should try to fix something that isn’t broken. The Flyers had won 6 of their pre-deadline 7 games. They have set a franchise record for most third period comebacks (11) in a single season. While a few players remained available who might strengthen the team, Holmgren didn’t deal for them, explaining, “We didn’t look into a rental player situation at all. I like our forward group. I like our young core.” This would be why he didn’t budge, even though players like the Islanders’ Thomas Vanek and Buffalo’s Matt Moulson were available. The trading clock was still ticking but the Flyers didn’t make a bid for either of those qualified weapons, who might have looked good on the wing with Claude Giroux or Braden Schenn.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, however, was happy to have reached terms with the Flyers, having been acquired last Tuesday in a deal that sent the Islanders minor-league forward, Matt Mangene, a third round draft pick in this year’s draft and second round pick in 2015. Arriving from Winnipeg last Tuesday night, MacDonald said of the Flyers, “They are a good team already and, hopefully, I can help them become better.” He is set to be paired with Luke Schenn and looks forward to seeing some time on the second power-play unit beside Mark Streit, whom he played with when he was a New York Islander. Kimmo Timonen said that MacDonald would be a welcome addition to the team, as he has league-leading 198 blocked shots. “That tells you he plays for the team,” commented Timonen. MacDonald worked on the power-play unit during his first morning skate with the Flyers. “You just try to review it and get familiar with it as good as you can,” he said, “And you try to gain some chemistry early.” Chemistry, with any team, is what it’s all about.
With March Madness about to descend upon us, the St. Joseph’s Hawks are playing a quarterfinal on Friday in the Atlantic 10 tournament against Dayton at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This comes after the Hawks lost two straight – the first to George Washington and the second to LaSalle. But the most surprising loss took place last night when 28-4 Villanova lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer, 64-63, to 17-16 Seton Hall. The Wildcats will still be in the NCAA Tournament but likely at Number Two rather than the One which they had earned this season. The selections will be announced on Sunday so get your brackets ready.