PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Cole Hamels has a strained elbow and will miss at least one start, possibly more, offsetting the good news for the Philadelphia Phillies that All-Star second baseman Chase Utley will soon return from the disabled list.
Hamels (14-5, 3.50 ERA) will have an MRI exam and skip his scheduled start Wednesday against Los Angeles after complaining of persistent soreness in his left elbow. The Phillies' ace could miss up to three weeks depending on the results, team doctor Michael Ciccotti said Tuesday night.
J.D. Durbin (5-2, 5.36) will start against the Dodgers.
Hamels has been about the only bright spot for a Phillies rotation decimated by injury and ineffectiveness. Freddy Garcia, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber are all on the disabled list, forcing the Phillies to use a patchwork rotation anchored by Hamels and veteran lefty Jamie Moyer.
The good news is the Phillies might not have to wait much longer for Utley to rejoin the team as they make a push in the NL East. Utley, batting .336 with 17 homers and 82 RBIs, took some practice cuts before Tuesday's game against Los Angeles for the first time since his right hand was struck by a pitch nearly a month ago.
``I swung pretty hard and I feel fine,'' Utley said. ``We'll see how it feels tomorrow. If it feels the same tomorrow, we'll try again with more swings, harder swings.''
The Phillies, who opened a 10-game homestand trailing San Diego by only one game in the wild card race, hope Utley can return for next week's series against the Mets. Utley said he was going ``stir crazy'' watching the Phillies drop two of three at Pittsburgh.
Utley split about 50-60 swings between his regular bat and a fungo bat, and hoped to take batting practice some time this week. Utley wore protective padding under his batting glove.
``My hands were a little weaker than it was prior to the injury, but it wasn't that bad,'' he said.
Ciccotti said Utley should be ready for a rehab assignment this weekend, and then return against the Mets.
Utley was injured when he was hit by Washington's John Lannan in the fifth inning of a 7-6 loss on July 26. Utley stayed in the game, going 2-for-4 with an RBI, but had surgery the next day to put a pin in the fourth metacarpal of his right hand. He was replaced in the lineup by Tadahito Iguchi, who was acquired from the Chicago White Sox shortly after Utley went down.
Utley was about to swing for the first time when he stopped manager Charlie Manuel for a favor.
``Put me in the lineup!'' he shouted from down the clubhouse.
``Yeah, he's in the lineup,'' Manuel chuckled. ``He's hitting 10th.''
While the Phillies still lead the National League in runs scored, they sorely need one of their top run producers as they chase their first playoff appearance since 1993. First baseman Ryan Howard leads the NL in RBIs (99) entering Tuesday, but was in a 3-for-24 slump.
``He's not seeing the ball good,'' Manuel said. ``I don't plan on giving him any rest. He's going to play through it.''
In other Phillies injury news, Ciccotti said outfielder Shane Victorino (strained right calf) could rejoin the team on Wednesday; OF Michael Bourn (ankle) might be back in two-to-three weeks; LHP Mike Zagurski (hamstring) is likely out for the season; RHP Ryan Madson (shoulder) might return for the final week of the season; and RHP Adam Eaton (shoulder) will throw in a bullpen session on Wednesday.
``It's been a very freak season,'' Manuel said.

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