CINCINNATI -- The most important thing to happen to the Phillies on Monday happened in the first six innings at Great American Ball Park.
Cole Hamels rejoined the rotation.
It was a significant development in a 3-2 victory over the Reds. Hamels is one of the Phillies' four aces, but had not pitched since Aug. 12 because of inflammation in his left shoulder. The shoulder injury had Phillies fans understandably a little nervous, because it seems the only thing that could prevent their team from entering the postseason as World Series favorites are injuries to the studs at the top of the rotation.
Hamels looked healthy against the Reds. He allowed just two hits and one run and struck out seven in six innings. He could have pitched longer, but the Phillies are being cautious and slowly building up his arm strength after a 17-day layoff, which is why they pulled him after 76 pitches.
Hamels said he tried to make a case with pitching coach Rich Dubee to pitch a little longer, but it did not work.
"I don't think I've been able to sway him for six years," Hamels said. "I don't think I'll be able to do it any time soon."
Hamels said he felt nothing in the shoulder, which is encouraging news. In fact, he said he hasn't thought much about his left shoulder since MRI exam results revealed the inflammation and no structural damage.
"That's kind of the whole deal," he said. "If I ever did [feel anything] I never would have made a start, because it's so late in the season I want to be able to finish the season healthy and go into the postseason healthy. I think that's the ultimate goal."
Hamels' fastball averaged only 88.6 mph in his Aug. 12 start against Washington after it had averaged 91.4 mph before the shoulder start to tire. His fastball averaged 90.1 mph Monday -- it topped out at 92.5 mph -- which he thinks is a positive first step.
He said it should continue to improve with time.
"Oh, of course," he said. "It's one of those things where you just kind of load up and let it go. I can't tell you how one click here and there makes a difference. I don't have a clue. But some days you feel really good and go out there and it's hard and some days you feel really good and it's not hard. As long as I'm making pitches and getting guys out, that's where I'm confident and comfortable."
Hamels was throwing his changeup with effectiveness, getting plenty of swings and misses off it. He retired the first nine batters he faced until Hunter Pence overran a ball and slipped to allow Brandon Phillips to reach on a leadoff triple in the fourth. It led to the only run Hamels allowed.
He allowed only one more baserunner.
The score was tied until the eighth inning, when Wilson Valdez hit a leadoff single to center field and Shane Victorino followed two batters later with a two-run home run to right field to make it 3-1. Victorino hit a first-pitch curveball from Reds right-hander Homer Bailey after Victorino struck out looking on a curveball in the fifth.
This time, he was ready for the breaking ball.
"I thought he was going to be looking for fastballs in," Bailey said. "We had been going in on him all night. I kind of wanted to get ahead with a curveball. I guess great minds think alike -- just that he hit it out, right?"
Actually, Victorino wasn't looking curveball, either. He just took advantage of a pitch up in the strike zone.
"I'm sure it was a mistake that he didn't want to throw there," he said. "I was able to put a good swing on it. I definitely wasn't thinking curveball.
"I think Homer pitched a great game, but don't forget about our guy, either. Our guy pitched a wonderful game. Coming off the DL, he went out there and pitched six strong. That was great. I tip my hat to Cole. He looked very sharp and very good. If you would have told me he was on the DL for 15 days, I would have said, 'No chance.' That's very good. It's a good sign."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.