Hamels hurls a gem as Phillies expand lead over Braves

Phillies' Ryan Howard is tagged out by Marlins' Gaby Sanchez as they collide in the first inning.
Phillies' Ryan Howard is tagged out by Marlins' Gaby Sanchez as they collide in the first inning.
Posted: September 15, 2010

MIAMI - The next time Cole Hamels steps onto a mound to start a game, he will be facing the Braves in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park, a division title on the line.

It will mark the culmination of a pitching rotation that was carefully designed to have each of the Phillies' top three pitchers face Atlanta twice during the final 2 weeks of the season. And, they hope, it will jump-start a 6-week sprint into and through the postseason.

Judging by the way Hamels pitched against the Marlins last night, striking out a season-high 13 in the Phillies' 2-1 win, Bobby Cox and the Braves should have plenty to mull over before they take the field in Philadelphia Monday.

The performance, combined with the Braves' 6-0 loss to the Nationals, gave the Phillies a two-game lead in the National League East, their largest lead since May 26, when they were 26-19 and 2 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta.

"I think ever since I've started, I've been trying to pitch for the division," said Hamels. "I don't think I want to put it down to the last 12 games. The only philosophy is every game matters, and you start from the first game of the season. I think that's kind of the way I've been able to go out."

After a 20-minute rain delay, Hamels mowed through the Marlins' lineup, allowing one run on five hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings while improving to 11-10 and lowering his ERA to 3.01.

He left the game with two outs in the seventh having thrown a career-high 127 pitches, but Chad Durbin recorded the frame's final out with the tying run on first base.

"I think they are more patient and they are becoming better hitters," Hamels said of the young Marlins. "It's going to be good for them, because they are going to knock starters out of the game earlier. Fortunately for me, I can go 120 pitches and hopefully get six or seven innings, or nine innings."

Ryan Madson overcame a leadoff single to pitch a scoreless eighth, and Brad Lidge pitched for the first time in 8 days, recording three straight outs in the ninth for his 22nd save in 27 opportunities.

Of the 16 games that remain on the Phillies schedule, six are against the Braves, starting with a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Monday and culminating with a three-game series at Turner Field on the final weekend of the regular season (Oct. 1-3).

Hamels will be in position to start two of those games (the first coming Monday), as will fellow aces Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

About a month ago, the Phillies opted against using an off day to move Hamels and Halladay up in the rotation, instead choosing to pitch Joe Blanton in a game against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park. The decision caused some fans to raise their eyebrows at the time since the move would have enabled Halladay to face playoff-contending San Francisco instead of the lowly Nationals.

All along, though, pitching coach Rich Dubee had a plan. Yesterday, he brought that plan to fruition by moving Oswalt ahead of Kyle Kendrick in the rotation. That way, Oswalt will pitch Friday against Washington and Kendrick will pitch Saturday.

Then, Oswalt will be able to start against the Braves on normal rest on Wednesday. Halladay will start Tuesday.

Hamels has been pitching as well as either one of his predecessors, and he continued to do so last night. He struck out at least two batters in five innings, retiring the side in the fourth, and struck out five of the last seven batters he faced.

His career high for strikeouts is 15, which he set on April 21, 2007, a 4-1 win over the Reds. He struck out 13 two other times, once in June 2008 against the Marlins and once in September 2007 in a 6-0 against the Nationals.

His previous season-high was 11, set in a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Aug. 7.

Hamels now has 201 strikeouts on the season, a new-career high. He struck out 196 in 227 1/3 innings in 2008. His 6 2/3 innings gives him 194 2/3, one more than he threw all last season.

"His fastball was working for him," manager Charlie Manuel said.

Phillers

Outfielder Domonic Brown (quad strain) was unavailable for the sixth straight game, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he is "getting closer" . . . Jiwan James went 3-for-4 with a double and a pair of RBI to lead the Phillies Class A affiliate Lakewood to a 6-1 win over Greenville to even the South Atlantic championship series, 1-1 . . . Former Phils lefty Scott Eyre, a member of the 2008-09 World Series teams, who retired in the offseason, visited his old teammates at Sun Life Stadium yesterday.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

|
|
|
|
|