Pitching coach Rich Dubee commented openly on his need to develop a stronger mound presence. Fans were quick to jump on him when, during the postseason of his disappointing 2009 season, he made the honest comment that he'd be happy when the year was over.
Farewell to Hollywood.
Cole Hamels beat the Florida Marlins last night at Sun Life Stadium. The final score was 14-2. He pitched eight innings, gave up two runs on eight hits. For the 27-year-old lefthander, it was a performance that was extraordinary in its ordinariness.
It was his eighth straight start in which he's allowed two or fewer runs. It was the 13th time in 18 outings this season that he's pitched at least seven innings and allowed three or fewer runs. In the National League, only teammate Roy Halladay (13) has that many.
Everybody loves the eye-popping performances that command our attention. Cliff Lee was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month for June yesterday and if he hadn't won, there would have had to be an investigation. He gave up only one run for the entire month and finished with a flourish, 32 straight scoreless innings.
At the start of that streak, though, his earned run average was nearly 4.00. And his last time out, Sunday in Toronto, he was scored on seven times. Which does nothing to diminish the pivotal role he plays.
We thrill to the bravura performances, homers that come in clusters or huge strikeout nights. In the end, though, baseball is a day-in, day-out enterprise. No matter how talented, the best teams understand they have to grind it out every game. Players might make millions, but those who ultimately succeed most often reach the pinnacle with a lunch-pail approach.
Yet as much as baseball people talk about prizing consistency, even they can be lulled when it actually occurs. Charlie Manuel's reaction in his postgame postmortem was brief.
"Hamels pitched good," he said offhandedly.
Pitched good? Yeah, he's done it all year. The manager laughed when it was pointed out that he might have underplayed just how good Hamels was because he's been that good so often.
"That's what good pitchers are, aren't they? Totally consistent," he added.
Hollywood Hamels always had more mental toughness than he was given credit for. Dubee marvels at how quickly the rest of his game has progressed in the last season-and-a-half.
"It's light years," he said. "He got it figured out. He probably was too good, too soon. He pitched all those innings [in 2008] and his body wasn't responding and then he got frustrated. Because he is such a perfectionist. But he got it fixed and he understands about just executing pitches and moving one step ahead."
Dubee conceded that sometimes pitching to such a high level carries the risk of it becoming expected.
"Sometimes it can get a little taken for granted," he said. "He got a ton of ground balls, and that's what he's turned into. Fans might overlook how good he's been, but other teams and his own teammates don't. When you set the bar high, some people think you just do it by walking on water. But it takes a lot of hard work, and he applies it."
There was no eureka moment, which is probably another reason why this hasn't received the attention it deserves. But Manuel has always pointed to July 22, 2010, against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
He hadn't been getting much run support; this would be no exception. On a brutally hot day, with the heat index pushing 100, he shut down the Cards on one hit through eight innings; the Phils eventually won in the 11th.
Coming into that game, he was 7-7 with a 3.63 ERA. In 32 starts since, he's 15-8, 2.36.
Since his first start this season, when he was nickel-and-dimed for six runs, he hasn't given up more than four in a start. Not even Halladay can say that.
Five days after that inauspicious start to the season, he pitched seven shutout innings against the Braves and hasn't looked back. Last night, there were no signs he had been knocked out - literally - of his last start by a wicked line drive off his glove hand.
Hollywood Hamels? Not anymore. Just call him Consistent Cole. And there's only one way to interpret that. *
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