Chicago Cubs pitcher Cole Hamels has had a fun few days of firsts. Over the weekend, he recorded his first hole-in-one on a golf course, and on Monday night he hit a home run in his final spring training tuneup.
Hamels has another first coming up when he faces the Texas Rangers in his initial start of the regular season. It'll be the first time the left-hander has pitched against a former team.
Although Cubs manager Joe Maddon had not announced the rotation order, it is now lined up with Jon Lester starting on opening day Thursday against the Rangers, followed by Yu Darvish, Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.
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"It's finally that time. I feel healthy, strong," Hamels said. "Now it's go time, get in front of the big crowds and big stadiums and everything starts to matter."
Monday night was Hamels' fifth spring start. He faced the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and did serve up Andrew Benintendi's home run with one out in the third, but led off the Cubs half with a homer to tie the game. He has hit two home runs in the regular season, including one last year with Chicago.
"I've been taking lots of BP," Hamels said. "I haven't had to do that in a couple years. We all had fun in the dugout with that. It's nice to just make solid contact."
Does it feel the same as making an ace?
"No. I'd take a hole-in-one," Hamels said, laughing. "It's a lot more rare. It took me about 15 years to get that."
He was playing with seven others, including teammates Anthony Rizzo and Lester, so he has plenty of witnesses.
"It was nice to go up there and finally hit one on the green on that hole," Hamels said. "Normally, I ended up in the bunker. I was happy I got it on the green and then it just disappeared. It was a cool moment."
Who knows what's in store for Hamels this season?
"Rizzo is a little perplexed right now because of what's been going on," Hamels said.
After Benintendi's homer, Hamels retired the next eight batters and exited after five innings. Chicago went on to win 3-2.
Next up will be the Rangers, who Hamels pitched for from 2015 until last July, when he was traded to the Cubs.
"I haven't had an opportunity to go up against a former team," Hamels said. "I'm pretty familiar with the ballpark. It's just making sure I keep the ball in play."
NOTES: Reliever Pedro Strop struck out two in one inning in his first game action since March 9, when he injured his right hamstring. ... Maddon said Monday he has yet to talk to outfielder Ian Happ, who was not happy about being assigned to Triple-A Iowa. "I respect the fact that he's upset," Maddon said. "We all believe it's the best thing for him right now. We think this will make him a better baseball player for years to come." ... Outfielder Mark Zagunis could make the Cubs as an extra outfielder. "It'd be awesome," Zagunis said. "I get chills thinking about it." Maddon said Zagunis has shown good at-bats, power and good baserunning. "What I've explained to him is, `You had the camp that everybody told us you're capable of,"' Maddon said.