MILWAUKEE -- It feels like forever since Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gathered reporters at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., to tell them that left-hander Cole Hamels had inflammation in his elbow.

They knew then that Hamels likely would miss his Opening Day start April 5.

Pulse
Phillies at a glance
2009 record: 93-69
2008 record: 92-70
NL East champs
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Madson: Back in business
Werth: Heart of the order
Rollins: Awaiting breakout
Focus: One game at a time
Manuel: Mix & match
Howard: Ready for lefties
Stairs: Shot reverberates
Manuel: New rules for 'pen
Blanton: Arm around team
Pedro: Return to spotlight
Ibanez: Eyes on prize
Rollins: '07 irrelevant
Lidge: Still an option
Lidge: Killer cutter
Roster: Mulling options
Ibanez: Perfect fit
Hamels: Path of the pros
Amaro: Bold decisions
Pedro: Elated to play part
Rollins: No more predictions
Hamels: Back in business
Pitching: Staff in flux
Manuel: Keeps 'em focused
Hamels: Aims for dominance
Lineup: Imperfect but solid
Lee: Ready for playoff debut
Howard: The evolution
Rollins: Excelling on defense
Rotation: Not just big two
Manuel: Steady as she goes
Rollins: Eyes on '09 drama
Howard: The 'Big Piece'
Lee: Lifting Phils' hopes

"He'll start when he's ready to start," Amaro said in March. "If it's Opening Day, it's Opening Day. If it's some time beyond that then that's when it will be. For us, again, it's the same old mantra: It's not about Opening Day. It's about 162 games, and hopefully beyond 162 games that we really have to worry about."

The Phillies will play their 156th game of the season Monday night against the Astros at Citizens Bank Park, and Hamels will be on the mound. He also is scheduled to start Sunday's regular-season finale against the Marlins, although the Phillies could hold him back if they clinch the National League East before then.

They hope they do.

It has been a trying season for Hamels, who is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA. He made his 2009 debut April 10 in Colorado, where he allowed 11 hits and seven runs to the Rockies in just 3 2/3 innings. He left his April 23 start against the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park after just 3 1/3 after Prince Fielder hit a line drive off his shoulder. Hamels departed his following start April 28 against the Nationals after he sprained his left ankle.

He has struggled with his command at times.

He has struggled with expectations since he earned World Series and National League Championship Series MVP honors last October.

But Hamels has pitched better recently. He is 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA in his previous six starts. He looks like he is returning to form at just the right time.

"I think it's being able to go out there, knowing what's at stake," Hamels said. "I think anytime September rolls around, and fortunately enough, I've been here when we've had to win every game. You still have to go out there... For some odd reason, I seem to bear down a little bit more and compete [in September] and I've been in situations where I've been able to win. It makes baseball more fun."

"I have a lot of confidence in Cole," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's had some ups and downs. It took him a while to get going, but his stuff is there."