Former Phillies ace Hamels feels healthy, eyes 2023 comeback

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PHILADELPHIA – 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 Suarez 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.”

Brown hired as general manager of Houston Astros

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HOUSTON — In joining the World Series champion Houston Astros, new general manager Dana Brown’s goal is to keep the team at the top of the league.

“I’m coming to a winning team and a big part of what I want to do is sustain the winning long term,” he said. “We want to continue to build, continue to sign good players, continue to develop players and continue the winning success.”

Brown was hired by the Astros on Thursday, replacing James Click, who was not given a new contract and parted ways with the Astros just days after they won the World Series.

Brown spent the last four seasons as the vice president of scouting for the Atlanta Braves.

“He is very analytic savvy,” Astros’ owner Jim Crane said. “He’s a great talent evaluator based upon what we’ve seen at the Braves, seasoned at player acquisitions, seasoned at player development and retention. They were often able to extend some of their player contracts… he’s got great people skills, excellent communicator and, last but not least, he’s a baseball player and knows baseball in and out and we were very impressed with that.”

The 55-year-old Brown becomes the only Black general manager in the majors and joins manager Dusty Baker to form just the second pairing of a Black manager and general manager in MLB history. The first was general manager Ken Williams and manager Jerry Manuel with the White Sox.

Brown said he interviewed for GM jobs with the Mets and Mariners in the past and that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told him to stay positive and that his time to be a general manager would come.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “We understand that there are a lot of qualified African Americans in the game that know baseball and that could be a big part of an organization and leading organization in baseball operations. So at the end of the day, I think it’s good for our sport to have diversity and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

Crane was asked about having the league’s only Black general manager.

“Certainly, we are very focused on diversity with the Astros,” he said. “It’s a plus, but the guy’s extremely qualified and he’ll do a great job. It’s nice to see a man like Dana get the job and he earned the job. He’s got the qualifications. He’s ready to go.”

Brown doesn’t have a lot of connections to the Astros, but does have some ties. He played baseball at Seton Hall with Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who spent his entire career with the Astros and serves as special assistant to the general manager. He played against fellow Hall of Famer and special assistant to the general manager Jeff Bagwell in the Cape Cod league during a short minor league career.

Brown said he spoke to both of them before taking the job and also chatted with Baker, whom he’s know for some time.

“Dusty is old school, he cuts it straight and I like it,” Brown said. “And so that means I can cut it straight with him.”

Brown worked for the Blue Jays from 2010-18 as a special assistant to the general manager. From 2001-09 he worked as director of scouting for the Nationals/Expos. He began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he spent eight years as their area scouting supervisor and East coast cross checker.

Click had served as Houston’s general manager since joining the team before the 2020 season from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Brown, who has been part of drafting a number of big-name players like Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and last season’s National League rookie of the year Michael Harris, is ready to show Crane that bringing him to Houston was the right choice.

“Baseball is all I know, it’s my entire life,” he said. “So I want to empty myself into this city, the Astro fans and let Jim Crane know that he made a special pick.”