Key to Phillies' season could be healthy rotation

The SportsXchange

If the Philadelphia Phillies hope to bounce back and regain their status as one of the elite teams in the National League, they'll need a lot of things to go right. They'll need Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, who didn't play their first game together until July 6, to be healthy and productive in 2013.

Perhaps more important than anything, though, is getting their money's worth from the trio of pitchers whose contracts are worth a total of $251.5 million. If Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels can be as productive as they were in 2011, when the trio represented the Phillies at the All-Star Game, the team could very well own the National League East again.

"When we play well, good things happen," Hamels said. "And I think that's why we are where we are in our careers."

Good things didn't happen in 2012, other than the Phils' ability to get Hamels to ignore the temptations of free agency and sign a $144 million contract extension. Hamels performed well in 2012, too.

However, the usually stable Halladay was unstable, succumbing to a shoulder injury that cost him nearly two months in the middle of the season. The Phillies went from 25-24 to 40-51 during Halladay's absence.

Lee didn't earn his first win until July 4, but he still had a productive season, posting a 3.16 ERA in 30 starts and a 7.39 strikeouts-to-walks ration, by far the best in baseball. Even so, he had a 4.99 ERA in the time Halladay was on the DL, picking a bad time to slump.

If the trio is healthy all season, the Phils can make a serious run at capturing their sixth division title in seven seasons. But if any of them are hurt, those chances drop drastically.

Even whispers of possible injuries can scare a nervous fan base. In early January, a CSNPhilly.com report said Hamels experienced shoulder discomfort toward the end of the 2012 season and that his offseason throwing program was briefly shut down in October.

Hamels admitted that he had discomfort in September, but he acted as if the rest of the story were untrue.

"I don't even know what it was about ... I've been healthy," Hamels said. "I haven't felt anything of that sort. I haven't picked up the paper or anything so I didn't know anything about it. That's the honest truth."

Hamels said he's healthy now. He has thrown four bullpen sessions on his own and plans to report to Clearwater, Fla., the first week of February, a week before pitchers and catchers are required to be in camp.

The Phils will need Hamels, Halladay and Lee to continue on that upward path as spring gives way to summer if they hope to stay in the NL East race in 2013.
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