Subpar Hamels and Phillies fall to Braves

Posted: July 28, 2012

ATLANTA - Cole Hamels wandered aimlessly around the infield grass Friday night after his $144 million arm failed once again. He peeked toward center field, and not yet knowing the ball's fate, started walking in a circle. Finally, when a fat 92 m.p.h. fastball landed as a three-run Brian McCann home run, Hamels paused and stared into the night.

"It was a long week," Hamels said later.

There is no explaining how a pitcher two days removed from signing one of the largest contracts in baseball history authored a first act as gruesome as the Phillies' 6-1 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. His erratic night snapped a four-game team winning streak.

Hamels walked six batters, a career high. He threw more balls than strikes, a first when firing at least 100 pitches. He relied heavily on his cutter, and not his powerful fastball.

"Sometimes you go out there with one good pitch, two good pitches, or all three or four," said Hamels, who lasted just five innings. "But the days you don't have any, it's not going to be a good game. You have to gut through it, and I wasn't able to do it."

The timing was not ripe for yet another clunker by a Phillies starting pitcher. Facing a hapless Milwaukee bullpen, the Phillies were capable of atoning for their pitchers' shortcomings. But the Brewers are headed nowhere fast and Atlanta is contending for a postseason berth.

With two games to make an impression before Tuesday's trade deadline, the Phillies stand 101/2 games back of the second wild-card spot.

"The numbers don't lie," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We've put ourselves in a very difficult position."

Everything failed them Friday. Three Hamels walks morphed into runs scored. Shoddy defense led to three unearned runs. The offense was stymied by Ben Sheets, making his third start since 2010.

It was a 2-hour, 44-minute infomercial on why the Phillies should restock for 2013.

"We're going to have to play better than that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's all I can say."

Hamels was the chief offender. He was wounded in the second when Mike Fontenot, the third baseman du jour, misplayed a weak hopper by Sheets that ultimately cost two runs.

Even then, the game was not lost until Hamels was battered in the fifth. He issued a one-out walk to Jason Heyward, served up a ground-rule double to Chipper Jones, and then hung a fastball that McCann whacked.

The Phillies and Braves have played six times in 2012. McCann has homered in every game.

Hamels could not find the strike zone all night. He twice walked Paul Janish, a shortstop hitting .184 who had played in 335 major-league games before Friday and walked more than once in just seven of them.

"Not even throwing strikes to the pitcher when he's bunting," Hamels said, "you're definitely not putting yourself in a good situation to win."

In his last start, Hamels threw a career-high 128 pitches. He did have the benefit of an extra day of rest between outings. He also received two injections of dye in his left arm for an extensive MRI exam Tuesday as part of a mandatory physical examination before signing his mega-deal.

Hamels said the Atlanta humidity affected his grip.

"It was one of the few games where I've ever changed my jersey twice," Hamels said. "I'm hoping I don't ever have to do that again."

The opposition was better Friday. Sheets had pitched 12 scoreless innings to begin his improbable comeback but permitted a Phillies run two batters into the first inning. The Phillies never added to it.

The final swing was by Jimmy Rollins and he skied one to shortstop. Rollins put his head down, trotted toward first, and fireworks exploded in right field. A season long on the brink is dangerously close to finally collapsing.

Contact Matt Gelb


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