While hosting his annual pitching clinic in Boothwyn three months ago, Cole Hamels was smiling from ear to ear.
“I feel as good as I’ve ever felt,” Hamels said. “I’m in great shape. I can’t wait for the season to begin.”
Well, Hamels will have to wait a little bit. The Phillies ace, who helped the team win a World Series championship in 2008, won’t pitch on Opening Day against the Rangers in Texas. Hamels is suffering from shoulder tendinitis. He’s about a week behind the other Phillies pitchers.
Hamels plans to pitch in April. Good thing the Phillies added pitching depth by signing A.J. Burnett.
The big righthander, who had a career year with the Pirates in 2012 by leading the NL in groundball rate and strikeout rate, signed a one-year $16 million deal.
Burnett, 37, gives the Phillies an impressive innings eater. Burnett, who posted a .3.30 ERA, has made at least 30 starts in each of the last six seasons.
“It’s a huge signing for the Phillies,” a NL scout said. “Now the Phillies staff is comparable with the Braves and Nationals. It gives the Phillies much more depth.”
The trickle down effect should help the Phillies bullpen. Kyle Kendrick will be slotted in the fourth spot in the rotation. Roberto Hernandez and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will battle for the bottom of the rotation.
The loser of that fight will be destined for the bullpen, which could use a boost in 2014.
Burnett’s signing is a nice surprise. After the season ended, Burnett told a Pittsburgh radio station that he would either return to the Pirates or retire. Up until recently, it appeared that Burnett would opt for the latter. But as spring training approached, he reconsidered. Burnett decided he wanted to play but stay within driving distance of his Monkton, Maryland home and he apparently sought a salary comparable to the $16.5 million he made last year. The Pirates, who failed to deliver a $14.1 million qualifying offer for Burnett, only paid half of his salary the last two years. His prior employer, the Yankees, footed the remainder of that bill.
The Pirates, who have assembled their rotation, were not in a position to spend the kind of money the Phillies offered Burnett, who is close friends with Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock.
Can Burnett be the difference between being an also-ran and a contender?
“Yes,” a NL scout said. “He’s a big upgrade over what the Phillies have after Lee and Hamels. He could be the difference in a number of games and that might be enough for the Phillies to make the playoffs. Other things have to go right for the Phillies (to contend) but they made a wise move by going with Burnett.”
Burnett is an emotional athlete, who tells it like it is. After blasting his team in 2005 following a lack of offensive support, the Marlins asked Burnett to leave the squad. “I don’t think anyone cares more than A.J.,” former Pirates teammate Jason Grilli said.
Burnett throws four pitches, a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a knuckle curve and a changeup.Don’t depend on Burnett defensively. He leads active pitchers with 33 errors.