CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cole Hamels remains about a month behind schedule, but the Phillies hope he can rejoin the rotation before the end of April.
The left-hander threw a live batting practice session Saturday morning at Bright House Field, tossing two simulated innings of 15 pitches each. Earlier this week, Hamels said he'd need to have two bullpen sessions under his belt before he would be ready to pitch in a game.
"I feel great," Hamels said. "Just all the progressions I've been able to make for the last week and a half have definitely been positive. … I think we're just looking kind of how I respond in the next couple days and getting bullpen reps and seeing where and what they want to do."
Hamels opened camp in February, about two weeks behind schedule because of inflammation in his left shoulder. He had been progressing nicely until he suffered a setback March 1, saying he felt fatigue in his left arm. That pushed him back further, but since restarting his throwing program recently, he has been fine.
"Oh, of course," said Hamels when asked if he is more optimistic he could be back earlier than he thought two weeks ago.
Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure seemed encouraged with what he saw Saturday.
"[The] ball was coming out of his hand really well," McClure said. "Crisp, real clean; [he] didn't hold back on any pitches, had velocity and life. I was really happy with it. He's had no issues of late. I don't expect any either. We're pretty stoked about it."
If Hamels can rejoin the rotation before the end of April, it would be a big boost for the Phillies. They need plenty of things to go right to compete this season.
"If everything goes as scheduled, I would think towards the end of [April] there," McClure said of Hamels' potential return. "Somewhere in the last week, I would think so."
Burnett not concerned with shaky spring numbers
BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett has never been much of a Spring Training performer.
He entered Saturday's Grapefruit League start against the Pirates at McKechnie Field with an 8-12 record and a 5.61 ERA in 33 appearances (32 starts) from 2006-14. That included a 0-2 record with a 7.36 ERA in four starts last spring.
He allowed seven hits, two runs, six walks and struck out two in 5 1/3 innings in Saturday's 5-3 loss. He has a 7.53 ERA in four spring starts.
"Everybody's different," Burnett said. "You get under the lights, it's different. ... The hook is inconsistent right now, but that always comes. I'm not worried about that. The more I throw it, the more I get out there, I'm going to find that release point. I think today was big today to throw to Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] again, get him behind the plate. We haven't worked since my first two innings in camp, so it was good for him to see what I like to do and know what he expects."
Burnett, who has 3.41 ERA in 61 regular-season starts the past two years, starts the second game of the regular season April 1 in Texas.
After battling flu, Brown returns to lineup
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The flu bug has run through Phillies camp, and it knocked out Domonic Brown for the past week.
He returned to action Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, his first game since March 15 against the Red Sox in Ft. Myers. He went 0-for-3 with one walk and one strikeout. He is hitting .158 (6-for-38) with one triple, four RBIs, nine walks and 13 strikeouts in 15 games.
"I felt all right after eight days of not playing," Brown said. "I'm a little weak, a little tired. Other than that, I think I've just got to get back out there. The swing is a little long right now. Like I said, I missed a week, but I put some good swings on the ball. We'll take that. I'm battling every at-bat, which is good."
Brown carried a fantastic Spring Training 2013, where he posted a 1.047 OPS in 90 at-bats, into a breakout season, which included his first All-Star appearance. He won't come close to those numbers this spring, but he believes he can at least be ready for Opening Day on March 31 in Texas.
"Come on, guys," he said. "You know I'll be ready to go. I hate that I got sick, but that's just part of everything. You can't control those things. I'll definitely be ready in a week for sure. ... I've got so much confidence in my game, I'm really not even worried about [the poor spring numbers]. I think I told you last year, if I start off slow in the spring or hot in the spring or whatever, I still knew that I had 400 at-bats, 500 at-bats in the season. If you can hit, you can hit. That's my faith and my confidence in my abilities. I'm just going to keep going out and fighting."
Asche likely wins job at third after Franco's demotion
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Cody Asche will be the Phillies' Opening Day third baseman.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg did not exactly say it Saturday afternoon following a 5-3 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, but there is no other way to consider it. The Phillies announced in the morning they had reassigned third baseman Maikel Franco, right-hander Sean O'Sullivan and outfielder Clete Thomas to Minor League camp.
The Phillies said in the winter and early in camp that Asche and Franco would compete for the third-base job.
Franco is gone, Asche is left.
"Uh, yeah," Sandberg said, when asked about Asche as the Opening Day third baseman. "Well, I think it's a combination of two things. Franco goes and gets seasoning and gets at-bats and works on things, probably more on the offensive side, shortening up his swing and getting some better line-drive-type of contact. Now Cody plays in these games and gets ready for the start of the season and then we go from there."
While the Phillies touted this as a true competition, the reality is Franco would have had to completely outplay Asche to have a shot at the job. Asche impressed the Phillies in 50 games late last season, while Franco has not played above Double-A.
Franco hit .184 (7-for-38) with two RBIs, two walks and six strikeouts in 16 games. After starting the spring 0-for-13, Asche has hit .250 (7-for-28) with two doubles, three home runs and six RBIs. He had started to come around earlier this spring, but got hit in the hand with a pitch, which set him back. In Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Pirates, Asche went 2-for-4 with a solo homer.
"I had kind of a tough go at it in the first two weeks, and I started getting comfortable and then got hit in the hand," Asche said. "I had to sit for two days and you have to start over when you should be at a point of progression. I had to work through that for a little bit, and I have been pretty happy with my last five to seven games with the at-bats I have had."
Asked about being in the Opening Day lineup, Asche said, "Until my name is on the lineup card Day 1, it's anybody's job still. I can't take anything for granted, whoever is down or whoever is here."
Mending Adams, Pettibone pitch in Minors game
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Adams and Jonathan Pettibone both pitched Saturday in a Minor League Spring Training game at Carpenter Complex.
Adams, who is recovering from right shoulder surgery, struck out two in one scoreless inning. He threw 12 pitches (11 strikes). Pettibone, who is recovering from inflammation in his right shoulder, walked two and struck out one in three scoreless innings. He threw 40 pitches (22 strikes).
Both hope to be game-ready by the middle of next month.
"I'm still looking at April 14-15 as my return date," Adams said. "If anything pops up before then, we'll address it. But right now, I'm not going to try to set my timetable any earlier."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.