Newly acquired Cole Hamels won’t be ready for start of season

Cole Hamels will miss at least three weeks as the newly-acquired Braves starter injured his shoulder during offseason workouts, according to manager Brian Snitker on the first day of spring training Wednesday.

While the Braves opened camp in Florida, Hamels was back home in Dallas. He is seeing Dr. Keith Meister and be re-evaluated in three weeks.

“He’s going to be behind,” Snitker said. “He irritated his (shoulder) doing some weighted ball exercises over the course of the winter. So that’s going to set him behind. It’s nothing I think will be major. We’ll evaluate him in three weeks and see where he’s at.”

A few days ago, Hamels informed trainer George Poulis that his shoulder wasn’t feeling up to his standards, according to Snitker. The Braves wanted to give the irritation time to calm down before building him back up. Snitker still expects Hamels to join the team in Florida before the end of the three-week period.

Hamels will be delayed to start the regular season, general manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed. Hamels will need time to build himself up, eliminating the possibility he’d be ready to start the season. The timetable will become clearer after he’s re-evaluated.

“He told us he’s not concerned,” Anthopoulos said. “Just give it three weeks to calm down and he’ll be re-evaluated and hopefully start a progression at that point. But obviously being a starter, starting progression, long toss, bullpens, innings; it’s going to take time.

“He will be (delayed). He’s letting it calm down for the next three weeks and even if, at that point, things are great and he’s ready to start, to be built up as a starter, he wouldn't have time to be ready.”

It's the Braves' only injury concern as camp opens, but it's a particularly discouraging one given what the team invested in Hamels. They signed the 36-year-old to a one-year, $18 million deal in December, hoping he'd stabilize the rotation as an innings eater and invaluable mentor.

Instead, he begins the season as a question mark. Hamels battled shoulder fatigue late last season, including skipping an outing in September before making his final start against the Cardinals - a game in which he struck out eight in four innings. But Hamels didn’t exceed four innings in any of his four starts that month. He reached six innings just twice in his final 10 outings.

During his conference call after signing Hamels, Anthopoulos acknowledged Hamels’ shoulder “wasn’t 100 percent” down the stretch last season. Anthopoulos said Wednesday that the current discomfort is unrelated to last season’s issue.

“He said he overdid it,” Anthopoulos said. “He was doing a weighted-ball drill. He was very apologetic and said he overdid it. ... He works extremely hard. He cares. Sometimes you just end up doing a little too much and you end up flaring up.”

Hamels last spoke with reporters at Chop Fest on Jan. 25. He was asked about his health and replied with the following:

“You just try to get smarter as you build up towards the season. Each year you learn a little bit more about what it takes, or you learn how to lessen and step back. It’s about opening the season healthy and it’s about maintaining your health through the year. Just be able not to beat too soon. ... It’s to be able to build something and be stronger as the season goes on.”

The Braves, while stocked with pitching, lack proven innings consumers. The team bid farewell to two pitchers of that ilk this winter in Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel. Hamels was signed to help address that void.

His absence does present further opportunity for other Braves’ starters. The team was already hosting a competition for its final spot in the rotation, with candidates including Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.

“It opens up a spot temporarily for somebody to do something really good,” Snitker said. “For somebody to step up. The good thing is, a year ago when we started the season, that first series in Philadelphia, all those guys have 160, 170 innings more experience now when we look to do the same thing. That’s a really good place to be. We do have numbers. We have guys who are competing for a job. That’s good stuff.”

Still, Hamels’ situation will loom over the team’s exhibition season. Extracting the most from Hamels is paramount to the Braves’ postseason - and World Series - aspirations.

“We want to make sure he takes the time to get himself right and come back strong,” Anthopoulos said.

The left-handed Hamels produced a 3.81 ERA with 143 strikeouts against 56 walks last season for the Cubs. He pitched 141-1/3 innings after being limited by a left oblique strain, failing to log over 190 innings for only the second time in 10 seasons. He also was stalled by a more serious oblique strain in 2017 with the Rangers.

Before his lastest oblique injury, Hamels was brilliant. He owned a 2.98 ERA across 17 starts (99-2/3 innings). When he returned over a month later, he posted a 5.79 ERA over his final 10 outings.

Hamels made a name for himself in Philadelphia, where he pitched from 2006 through part of 2015. He was a three-time All-Star for the Phillies, winning National League Championship Series and World Series MVP honors in 2008.