Star-crossed Hamels sprains an ankle

PHILADELPHIA – It’s hard to shake the idea that somewhere in the Tampa Bay area – perhaps in the TV room of a retirement facility, a nightstand in a trailer park, or the back of Joe Maddon’s bicycle – there stands a Philadelphia Phillies Cole Hamels bobblehead doll with stickpins protruding from the back. Or maybe it’s in L.A., on the dashboard of a Bimmer, on a shelf in a studio backlot, or in Frank McCourt’s favorite Malibu wine café.

“No, not yet,” Hamels said. “If that was it, I’d probably be on the disabled list with a surgical procedure. If somebody hated me that bad, why would they toy around with me?”

To drive him crazy, perhaps?

Hamels sprained his left ankle Tuesday night while fielding a bunt in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals, two outs away from qualifying for what would have been his first win of the season.

In his previous start, Hamels was struck in the back of his pitching shoulder by a wicked line drive off the bat of Milwaukee strongman Prince Fielder, forcing a premature departure.

In spring training, persistent elbow soreness required a cortisone shot in mid-March, and his schedule was pushed back to the point where he missed the nationally televised season opener here against Atlanta, a start that was rightfully his. When he finally did pitch, five days later against the Colorado Rockies, he gave up 11 hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, and was lit up again in his next start, giving up three home runs in an 8-7 loss to the Padres.

All this calamity has followed since Hamels blew up from coast to coast last October, when he was the MVP of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers and MVP of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Some frustration, but almost comedy,” Hamels said in describing his reaction to Tuesday’s pratfall, when he caught a cleat, rolled over on his left ankle, and finally toppled over after charging a bunt by Washington pitcher John Lannan. The Phillies led 5-0 at the time (they would win 7-1), and Hamels had allowed just three hits – Ryan Zimmerman’s screaming double off the center-field scoreboard and two bloop singles by shortstop Alberto Gonzalez – until Lannan’s bunt, which went in the books as a base hit after Hamels tossed the ball straight up in the air as he landed on his back.

“The last time, I felt I was doing really well and I got hit and knocked out of the game,” he said. “This time I finally felt like I was getting in a good groove again and [the ankle] happens.

“I don’t know what else to do but kind of laugh about it because it’s not serious and I know I’ll be able to come back out.”

Hamels is confident he will make his next start; X-rays were negative. Because of an off day Thursday, he isn’t due to pitch again until Monday night in St. Louis. But this is his first sprained ankle, and it remains to be seen how much swelling he’ll have to deal with in the coming days. This was one of those turned ankles that should come with a warning advisory before watching the replay.

“My cleat got caught,” he said. “I was just trying to do too much at once. I was trying to get a double play, your body’s kind of flailing, I’m moving all over the place. When you don’t have your legs under you, you’re definitely going to hurt something or fall over, and I did both.”

Hamels tested the ankle with a practice pitch, but immediately realized he couldn’t go one, flipping the ball behind him in the vicinity of manager Charlie Manuel before walking off the mound. The ball landed between the men.

“I tried to flip it to Charlie,” he said. “I guess it didn’t get there.”

For much of the winter, the 25-year-old Hamels looked anything but a potential candidate for a pity party. A cover story in Sports Illustrated was titled, “The Fabulous New Life of Cole Hamels.” The blonde, TV-star (“Survivor”) wife, Heidi Strobel. An appearance on Letterman. A spectacular penthouse suite in one of Philadelphia’s most coveted addresses. A bid to adopt a child from Malawi, straight out of the Madonna playbook. Autograph signings, banquets, mall appearances. And, perhaps the biggest reward of all, a new three-year, $20.5 million contract.

But there was a price to be paid, Hamels admitted, for all the new celebrity. Last week, he told Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he hadn’t been as diligent in his offseason workouts, which he believes contributed to his elbow woes in spring.

“I had distractions in January,” Hamels told Salisbury. “I had to fly to Philly every weekend to do something. I’d work out three days, then I’d be off four days. Because of that, those three days of working out was pretty much like doing nothing.”

Hamels felt he’d finally gotten back to where he wanted to be in his last two starts, commanding his two-seam fastball, dropping his big curveball, getting swings and misses at his changeup. But while his team is winning – the Phillies have won five in a row and are within a half-game of first-place Florida – Hamels has yet to post his first W.

Yet his confidence can’t be shaken, not even by some voodoo bobblehead, if one exists.

“I guess I’ll be good and rested in September,” he said.

Gordon Edes is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gordon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Apr 29, 2009