When the Braves signed Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18MM deal, he checked all the right boxes: veteran, short-term deal, fierce competitor, playoff-tested, particularly painful for a playoff rival. But triceps tendinitis has kept Hamels from the hill and forced the Braves to turn to Plan B lefties like Tommy Milone, Sean Newcomb, and Robbie Erlin. Some solutions have worked better than others, but despite a rotation in constant flux, Atlanta holds a 2-game lead in the NL East with less than 20 games to play.

Their need for Hamels is no less intense, however, because while the season itself has gone by in the blink of an eye, the playoffs will actually be longer than usual. For a team with back-to-back NLDS losses, the Braves are well aware of the potential pitfalls awaiting them in the postseason. So it’s not a moment too soon that Hamels could be nearing his return.

The veteran lefty threw live batting practice to Ozzie Albies on Sunday, leaving the Braves encouraged about the potential return of both players, per The Athletic’s David O’Brien (via Twitter). The Braves will wait another couple of days before letting Hamels throw a similar session, but if there are no red flags, Hamels could return to the rotation shortly thereafter.

As with many pitchers who have returned in this single-league environment – such as Charlie Morton of the Rays – Hamels may ease back into the rotation with 1-2 inning outings at a time. That doesn’t give the Braves and Hamels unlimited time to get him on track before the postseason, but he could still get 2-3 tune-ups before the playoffs.

Hamels has run hot-and-cold in recent seasons with the Chicago Cubs, nonetheless sustaining the comeback that began with 12 starts of a 2.36 ERA to finish 2018 after his exile in Texas. In his lone full season with the Cubs, Hamels went 7-7 in 27 starts with a 3.81 ERA/4.09 FIP over 141 2/3 innings. If Hamels can return to form, he’d potentially slot in right behind current ace Max Fried as their number two.

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