PHILADELPHIA (AP) Giving the ball to Cole Hamels for the home opener was an easy decision for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Of all the aces in the team's heralded rotation, Hamels is the only one with a World Series ring. And a World Series MVP trophy. And an NLCS MVP trophy.
So when the Phillies host the new-look Miami Marlins in their first game at the always sold-out Citizens Bank Park on Monday afternoon, the lanky lefty will take the mound against Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Co.
``I think it's always an honor to be in a position to do leading off the season, especially if it's at home,'' Hamels said when he learned he would get this start. ``I've always wanted to.''
Both teams are off to slow starts. The Phillies are 1-2 after losing consecutive games in walk-off fashion to Pittsburgh. The Marlins are 1-3.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay started the season opener for the Phillies at Pittsburgh on Thursday, and tossed eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory. Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, pitched six outstanding innings in Philadelphia's 2-1 extra-inning loss to the Pirates on Saturday night.
Hamels normally would follow Halladay and Lee in the rotation, but pitching coach Rich Dubee flip-flopped him with Vance Worley so he would start in front of the home crowd.
``Cole has had more experience.'' Dubee said. ``He's pitched in the World Series. The big flag is out there. Not that Vance can't handle it, but it's a little bit of a hectic day. Any of our guys deserve to pitch the home opener or the opener of the season. This way it lines up where Cole gets it. It splits our lefties. It doesn't put Vance in that situation. Cole is more accustomed to pitching with a lot of hoopla around.''
Worley did his part, throwing six sharp innings on Sunday. But the bullpen blew a three-run lead and the Phillies lost 5-4. Now they'll look to Hamels to end their two-game losing skid.
The Marlins are coming off a disappointing loss. All-Star closer Heath Bell, one of their four big-name acquisitions, blew his first save opportunity in a 6-5 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. Anibal Sanchez will start against the Phillies on Monday. Sanchez is 3-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 16 starts against Philadelphia.
This will be the third home opener Miami has played in its first seven games.
Despite a disappointing start, new manager Ozzie Guillen isn't worried about the Marlins just yet.
``It was tough luck,'' Guillen said after the gut-wrenching walk off loss to the Reds on Sunday. ``We did everything we needed to do to win the game. If we play like that with fire and enthusiasm, we are going to win a lot of games.''
Hamels will be making the first start in what could be his last season in red pinstripes. The two-time All-Star is set to become a free agent after the season and there should be plenty of suitors lining up for a star pitcher who is still in his 20s. Hamels, who turned 28 in December, signed a $15 million, one-year contract in the offseason. If he has another typical season, Hamels should get a deal in the range of the $120 million, five-year deal Lee signed in Dec. 2010.
The new benchmark for Hamels could be the $127.5 million, six-year deal Matt Cain just signed with San Francisco. Hamels is aware of what other players are making, but he doesn't let it affect his approach to the season.
``It's the same mentality I've had every year,'' Hamels said. ``There's been numerous years you're playing for contracts. Ultimately, it's what happens when you play well. If you do that after a number of years, you make more money, like a lot of guys in the locker room. It never takes away from your work ethic. That's what I have seen and been able to correlate to what I am.''
Hamels is coming off his most consistent season. He was 14-9 and set career bests in ERA (2.79) and WHIP (0.97). Hamels was the main reason the Phillies won the second world championship in franchise history in 2008. He was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missing from their lineup, the Phillies will need to rely on their superb starters as they pursue a sixth consecutive NL East title.
The offense struggled in the first three games in Pittsburgh, scoring just six runs and getting 20 hits in three games. Manager Charlie Manuel juggled his lineup around Sunday and it's likely he'll use a different one against the Marlins.
``It's early. We've only played three games, but it's important we get people in there,'' Manuel said.