NORTH PORT, Fla. — Cole Hamels rejoined the Atlanta Braves just in time for their first exhibition game of the year.
The injured pitcher is still far off from using the mound at the club's new spring training facility.
Hamels signed an $18 million one-year deal with the Braves in the offseason but informed them just before camp started that he was experiencing discomfort in his left shoulder during training. The 36-year-old left-hander was sent to Dallas to get treatment from surgeon Keith Meister.
Now he's back, but Hamels said he's waiting for inflammation in the shoulder "to calm down." He expects to remain in North Port after the Braves break camp and head to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks on March 26 to open the regular season.
"I know I'm behind the 8-ball," he said Saturday, when the Braves got two solid innings from former Seattle Mariners ace Félix Hernández in a 5-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in a Grapefruit League opener. "But once I knock (the inflammation) out right away, I know I'll be able to be the best pitcher I can and put up good numbers.
"I need to come back at 100%. This is an extremely talented team, so I when I come in to take over a spot, I want to be ready."
The 14-year-veteran went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA last season with the Chicago Cubs. The four-time All-Star and 2008 World Series MVP pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 2006 until being traded in July 2015 to the Texas Rangers, who traded him to the Cubs midway through the 2018 season.
Atlanta was certainly hoping he might top last year's output of 141 2/3 innings, but that may be in question after his shoulder flared up doing weighted ball drills.
"It hit a point where I couldn't get past (the pain)," Hamels said. "Soreness is good, but you have to know what's good and what's bad. I wasn't feeling as good as I thought I should and I couldn't overcome it without asking the right questions."
Braves manager Brian Snitker said he and the staff will be patient with Hamels' progression.
"We want to make sure he's right," Snitker said. "We have a great program. Our strength and conditioning and medical people know what they're doing. We've been patient before, and we'll be patient now. When we get him back, we want him back."
Glad to be here
After a soft opening last season, CoolToday Park had its grand opening Saturday.
The $125 million facility — the most expensive facility ever built for use by a single team at spring training — features a 55,000-square-foot clubhouse, and Atlanta players said they're enjoying the weight room, too.
After 22 years at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Orlando area, the Braves are enjoying the spacious new spring home.
"We have 68 guys in the clubhouse, and you can't tell," Snitker said. "You can sit and eat and you're not on top of the other. We can have meetings because we don't have walls."
The location is also a plus. They will spend less time on the road, with no more leaving at dawn for road trips.
"Now we're playing games against nine other teams within 20 minutes to an hour, 15 minutes," said Chip Moore, Atlanta's executive vice president of minor league affiliates and strategic planning.
Catcher Tyler Flowers said that will allow him and his teammates to get in a workout before getting on a bus.
"I remember the Marlins and Cardinals last year, that was 3 1/2 hours," he said. "We'd be leaving Orlando at 6 a.m., get there, warm up and get in the cage a little bit. You'd go there, it takes three hours, you play five innings, then it takes you another three hours coming back."
Traffic in the tourist-heavy Orlando area, particularly on Interstate 4, also wasted a lot of time.
"It's the worst," third baseman Austin Riley said. "The Braves set you up (with lodging) six to seven miles away (from the ballpark), but it would take you 30 minutes to get there. Now it's five minutes. That's huge for sleep and recovery."
Hernandez needed 30 pitches — 17 strikes — to get through the first two innings. He struck out two batters, walked one and showed good movement on his pitches, though one was of the wild variety.
The 34-year-old right-hander nicknamed "King Felix," who threw a perfect game in 2008 and won the 2010 American League Cy Young Award, is one of the players competing for a spot in the rotation for the two-time reigning National League East Division champions.
Ronald Acuña Jr. doubled and scored a run for the Braves, Ozzie Albies singled, walked and scored twice and Adam Duvall doubled in a run. Baltimore managed just four singles.