By John Manuel
October 8, 2003
Team USA lost a potential ace Tuesday, but may have gained one as well in its bid to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels, the best prospect among the pitchers on Team USA’s roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Panama that begins Oct. 31, was removed from the roster Tuesday. But to replace him, Team USA named Braves lefthander Horacio Ramirez, who finished third among major league rookies in wins in 2003.
Ramirez, a native of Inglewood, Calif., went 12-4, 4.00 for the National League East champions and spent much of the season as the Braves’ No. 4 starter. However, he was sent down to Triple-A Richmond in late August as part of the Braves’ roster shuffling for the postseason, and was in the minors on Aug. 31, making him eligible for Team USA’s roster. He went 3-0, 2.41 in September after he was recalled to Atlanta.
Ramirez is one of three Braves pitchers on the 31-man Team USA roster, joining lefty Andy Pratt and righthander Adam Wainwright. Team USA has used four-man rotations predominantly in past tournaments, meaning three of the four starters in Panama could be Braves.
Hamels was removed for the roster due to a minor muscle injury in his back. The Phillies and Team USA decided it would take too long for Hamels to get back into condition to pitch competitively. Team USA has to settle on a 24-man roster by Oct. 24.
“He’s got some muscle spasms in the right side of his back,” said Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, who oversees the farm and scouting departments for the organization. “It’s really a matter of timing more than anything else. He hasn’t been on a mound pitching for a few days. If the tournament were a week or 10 days later, it wouldn’t have been an issue.”
Arbuckle was a member of the USA Baseball steering committee, chaired by Dean Taylor and Bob Watson, that picked the players on the roster. The Phillies wanted Hamels, who threw 101 innings this season between two Class A levels, to put his above-average feel for pitching and fresh arm to use in the qualifier.
“I talked to Dean a couple of times because we wanted Cole to pitch on the team, and Cole really wanted to do it,” Arbuckle said. “We wanted to play it out as long as it was feasible that he could be healthy enough. Even though it’s on his non-throwing side, though, you have concerns that it could affect his delivery, and we didn’t want to take that chance.”