Phillies Rewarding Their Homegrown Ace with Likely Opening Day Start

Greg PintoCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2017

Of the Philadelphia Phillies' decorated "Big Three" starting pitchers, just one has accomplished the ultimate baseball goal of leading his team to a World Series title. His name is Cole Hamels.

Now, it seems the Phillies will finally reward their only homegrown ace with a long-deserved Opening Day start in 2013. 

Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee announced Wednesday that Hamels would start Saturday's Grapefruit League opener against the Houston Astros—a sign that the Phillies also plan to align their starting rotation so that Hamels is the starter on Opening Day in Atlanta, according to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury.

If that is the case, Hamels, 29, will make his first career Opening Day start April 1 against the rival Atlanta Braves after signing a six-year, $144 million contract extension to remain a member of the Phillies' starting rotation last July. 

For a lot of fans, the general opinion about this news seems to be something along the lines of, "It's about time." 

Hamels made his MLB debut as a 22-year-old phenom back in 2006 after the Phillies drafted him in the first round (17th overall pick) of the 2002 draft. Over the seven seasons that would follow, Hamels would blossom into one of the league's elite left-handed starting pitchers. 

The lefty has dazzled spectators and confused hitters with an excellent changeup and a pair of fastballs that he can run at or away from hitters of either handedness. The 2012 season, as a result, was arguably the best of his career as he posted a record of 17-6 and a 3.05 ERA.

But anyone who has ever had even a small taste of Philly sports knows that it's the 2008 season that will leave a lasting mark on Hamels' legacy. In that year he did what fellow rotation members Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have been unable to do—capture a World Series title. 

And he was excellent in the process, earning the honors of National League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP in a postseason that saw him go 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA. 

Hamels is moving into the prime of his career following one of his greatest statistical seasons on record, but following the contract extension and a few years of studying under guys like Halladay, Lee and Jamie Moyer—veterans who have helped him develop into more of a leader—the time is right for Hamels to take over the reins. 

The fact of the matter here is that the future is now for this Phillies' rotation. Halladay is 35 years old and will turn 36 in May. Lee is 34 and will turn 35 in August. When you consider that the youngest member of this starting rotation is a 28-year-old John Lannan, it isn't hard to come to the realization that there are no spring chickens here. 

In the long run, however, an Opening Day start may be nothing more than a nice topic to bring up during a conversation when you're old and retired and reminiscing about your glory days. Hell, Lannan was once the Opening Day starter for the Washington Nationals

But Hamels' Opening Day start is more symbolic. He'll lead names like Halladay and Lee into a regular-season, uphill battle against younger teams like the Braves and Nationals. This is the moment when Hamels stops being the student and becomes the teacher. 

This is what the Phillies envisioned for Hamels on draft day back in 2002. Sure, they may not have known that he would eventually sign the most lucrative deal for a starting pitcher in franchise history or get the nod over a pair of former Cy Young Award winners—those things are impossible to predict on day one. 

But for Hamels to make his first of what should be many Opening Day starts as one of the most respected Phillies starting pitchers of all time? That was all according to plan. 

Note: The Phillies have not officially announced Hamels as the Opening Day starter. By setting their rotation in this manner for spring training, the Phillies are strongly indicating that Hamels will be the Opening Day starter.