Braves start day one with news of Cole Hamels' injury

Bill Shanks

On a day that is counted down to all winter, the day pitchers and catchers officially report to spring training, the Atlanta Braves had inauspicious news start spring training Wednesday morning.

Manager Brian Snitker told reporters Wednesday morning that new starting pitcher Cole Hamels is injured. Hamels irritated his left shoulder doing some weighted ball exercises over the winter. He will remain at his home in Dallas and be re-evaluated in three weeks.

The 36-year-old left-hander was signed to a one-year, $18 million contract over the winter. The Braves hope Hamels can provide that veteran presence in the rotation on and off the field.

Three weeks from now is March 4, which would be three weeks and one day from the start of the regular season. That might make it unlikely Hamels could start the new year in the rotation, unless the Braves backed him up to start in San Diego in the second series of the season or even in Atlanta to start the home schedule on April 3 against Miami.

With Hamels backed up, the Braves will have more of an opportunity to evaluate the two members of the staff favored for the fifth starter’s competition. Sean Newcomb and Felix Hernandez are expected to battle for that job, so they may get additional innings early on in camp.

An injury to Hamels is something many worried about when the Braves committed to him for the 2020 season, particularly compared to a younger starting pitcher like Madison Bumgarner. Hamels made 27 starts last season for the Cubs, missing time with an oblique injury in July and then left shoulder fatigue at the end of the season.

The Braves were already going to evaluate the readiness of young pitchers Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, who have both already seen time in the rotation. They were in Triple-A Gwinnett last season, and unless they can impress enough to win a MLB job in spring training, that will be where they start the season.

If Newcomb and Hernandez both do well, then they could both be in the rotation if Hamels is not on the roster to start the regular season. Josh Tomlin, a former starting pitcher who filled the role of long reliever for the Braves last season, returned to the team Wednesday with a minor league contract and an invitation to big league spring training.

The free agent starting pitcher list is dwindling by the day. Pitchers like Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hellickson headline a group of pitchers any team would want to turn to only in a dire emergency. The Braves are likely to see how internal options perform first, along with Hamels’ progress, before turning to another external candidate.

Hamels was 7-7 last season with a 3.81 ERA. The four-time All-Star has won 163 and lost 121 games in his career with an ERA of 3.42.

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