Cole Hamels nearly ready to face live hitters

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Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels has yet to make an appearance in a Grapefruit League game because of shoulder tendinitis that he developed over the winter, but he told reporters last week that his arm is starting to feel “really good” again and he is expected to take a big step forward within the next few days.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports that Hamels threw 33 pitches off a bullpen mound on Sunday and has only one mound workout left before the Phillies’ medical staff clears him to face live hitters.

Hamels has already been ruled out for Opening Day, but he could be ready to debut around mid-to-late April if he avoids further setbacks.

The 30-year-old ace posted a 3.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 220 innings last season.

He signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Phillies in July 2012.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.