Inside the Phillies: No offense nothing new for Hamels

Posted: April 09, 2012

Cole Hamels was astonished to learn that the Phillies have some offensive issues.

This 2012 model, with its .198 team batting average, eight total runs and four extra-base hits through four games, does not seem all that dissimilar to the spiffier engines that failed so many times to support him in recent years.

"I've kind of been doing that for four years, so, no, it's no different to me," Hamels said when asked if he relished the challenge of pitching without much offensive support this season. "That's why I have the same mindset no matter what we do. I have to go out there and try to bear down and pitch deep into the game, and that obviously wasn't the case today."

The 28-year-old lefty who has a chance to leave via free agency after this season was not ripping his offensive teammates. If anything, he was most disappointed in his own inability to pitch more than 5 1/3 innings during the Phillies' 6-2 home-opening loss to the new-look and newly named Miami Marlins on a blustery Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

"Four games are not really enough to tell what the team is going to do," Hamels said. "I feel like we have really good hitters. Sometimes you get into a rut to start the season."

Hamels is right. Four games are not enough to tell much of anything. It is enough, however, to put a serious scare into a fan base that has become accustomed to winning seasons, and Hamels' past performances might just be the best justification for the growing concern.

He is absolutely right that he has pitched with little run support during the last four seasons. That was particularly true in 2010 and 2011, when the Phillies scored three or fewer runs in 38 of his 65 appearances, all but one of which was a start.

"I definitely know how to battle those sorts of demons and in how to stay true to yourself by making one pitch at a time," Hamels said. "I feel like I've been able to do a good job of that. In baseball, you're going to see a lot, and I just feel if you can maintain the same sort of mound presence and keep going out there and fighting until the very end, you'll be able to have good results more times than not."

Hamels has done an amazing job the last two seasons of keeping his composure even when the runs have been scarce. His ERA in the 38 games he pitched when the Phillies scored three runs or fewer was 2.80.

Here's the scary part: The Phillies still went a combined 13-25 in those games and that .342 winning percentage is considerably better than the league average. A year ago, teams that scored three or fewer runs had a .231 winning percentage.

The Phillies, with an offense much more potent than this one, scored three or fewer runs in 77 games last season and went 30-47. That .286 winning percentage was by far the best in baseball in those situations, which is a real tribute to the pitching staff.

Hamels' performance in the home opener was certainly short of spectacular and a bit odd. His stuff was good enough for nine strikeouts, and he did not walk a batter. But he surrendered four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.

"I felt like I made really great pitches at times, and I felt like all four pitches were working," he said. "Unfortunately, there were about four pitches where I gave up the hits and probably two or three that I didn't throw effectively. One was the homer [to Omar Infante] and a couple doubles [to Hanley Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez]. You have to hope the game of luck is on your side sometimes, and I don't think it was today."

The great hope around here is that great starting pitching can allow the Phillies to at least tread water until Ryan Howard and Chase Utley provide some offensive reinforcement. Hamels said the rotation has proven it can handle the pressure that comes with prolonged hitting slumps.

"Things aren't going to be easy every year," he said. "You're not going to have the team that hits the most home runs in the league or steal the most bases in the league. Our job as pitchers is to go out and do our jobs, pitch deep into ballgames and minimize the runs. That's something we've always been able to do no matter what sort of scenario we've had on the offensive side."

That's true, but sometimes too little offense is too much to overcome even for a team filled with star-studded aces. A year ago, the San Francisco Giants scored three or fewer runs a major-league leading 98 times and the cast of starters that led the team to a World Series title the year before was not enough to get the team back to the postseason.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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