MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Cole Hamels had a fun few days of firsts. Over the weekend, he recorded his first hole-in-one on a golf course, and on Monday, he hit a home run in his final spring training tune-up.
Hamels has another first coming up when he faces the Texas Rangers in his first start of the regular season. It'll be the first time the left-hander has pitched against a former team.
Although Cubs manager Joe Maddon has not officially announced the rotation order, it is now lined up with Jon Lester starting Thursday on Opening Day against the Rangers, followed by Yu Darvish, Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.
"It's finally that time. I feel healthy, strong," Hamels said. "Now it's go time, get in front of the big crowds and big stadiums, and everything starts to matter."
Monday night was Hamels' fifth spring start. He faced the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and served up Andrew Benintendi's home run with one out in the third, but he led off the Cubs' half with a homer to tie the game. He has hit two home runs in the regular season, including one last year with the Cubs.
"I've been taking lots of BP," Hamels said. "I haven't had to do that in a couple years. We all had fun in the dugout with that. It's nice to just make solid contact."
Does it feel the same as making an ace?
"No. I'd take a hole-in-one," Hamels said with a laugh. "It's a lot more rare. It took me about 15 years to get that."
He was playing golf with seven others, including teammates Anthony Rizzo and Lester, so he had plenty of witnesses.
"It was nice to go up there and finally hit one on the green on that hole," Hamels said. "Normally, I ended up in the bunker. I was happy I got it on the green, and then it just disappeared. It was a cool moment."
Who knows what's in store for Hamels this season?
"Rizzo is a little perplexed right now because of what's been going on," Hamels said.
After Benitendi's homer, Hamels retired the next eight batters and exited after five innings.
Next up will be the Rangers, for whom Hamels pitched from 2015 until last July, when he was traded to the Cubs.
"I haven't had an opportunity to go up against a former team," Hamels said. "I'm pretty familiar with the ballpark. It's just making sure I keep the ball in play."