Having established himself as a major league pitcher last season, Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels has set some loftier personal goals for 2007, namely to win 20 games and made a bid for the Cy Young Award.
But, to do all that, he needs to stay on the mound.
Hamels, plagued by injuries throughout his minor league career, has stuck to a strict exercise regimen in spring training that includes 500 daily crunches and an ice bath. He also gets a massage and chiropractic treatments three times a week. The whole routine is designed to control a degenerative condition in which a disk in his back can press on his sciatic nerve, causing intense pain and limiting his mobility.
"I'll look in the mirror and ask myself, 'Did I do all I can do?'" Hamels told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'll do 500 crunches and wonder if it's enough. I feel guilty if I don't feel like I've done enough. I get paranoid."
Hamels' health may the only thing keeping him from greatness. He throws a mid-90s fastball, an emerging curveball and one of the game's best change-ups. Hamels, 23, went 9-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 23 starts as a rookie last season, and in his final 11 starts, he was 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA. His 101 strikeouts after the All-Star break were second most in the National League.
"His conditioning is better right now than ever before," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's sound. His arm's good. His back's good. The fact that he did pitch a lot for us in the second half of the season, I think that's only going to be a good thing for him as far as getting experience."