Hamels pitches a shutout as Phillies finally beat Braves

Posted: August 08, 2012

The hip-hop mix awakened Citizens Bank Park shortly after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, and it was like spring training again. This group of 25 Phillies stretched on the grass 40 minutes earlier than usual. The occasion was pitchers' fielding practice, with some cutoff and relay outfield drills mixed in.

"Welcome to life," one Phillies official said.

When you change 28 percent of your roster in less than a week, patience is required. Before a pristine, 3-0 Phillies victory over Atlanta, manager Charlie Manuel insisted his new-look team was not the cause for his demanding extra work. It's not as if he has a bunch of teenagers to teach.

"If you're 29 or 30, and you don't got it by now," Manuel said, "I'll be dead before you ever get it."

So they worked anyway, and the immediate result was good baseball. It helps when Cole Hamels, he of the $144 million left arm, is immaculate. He tossed his first shutout since Game 3 of the 2010 National League division series. All it required was 111 pitches.

In doing so, he faced the minimum number of batters through six innings. His defense turned two sharp double plays behind him, and Domonic Brown threw a laser from the left-field corner to eliminate Braves catcher Brian McCann's attempt at a double.

The game was crisp, finished in 2 hours, 16 minutes, and reminiscent of the summer nights from a season ago when the Phillies won 102 times.

It's a reminder, Hamels said, of what the team has to play for even with the postseason beyond reach. Demonstrate competency now and it could carry into 2013.

"To show the signs of what we have, that's a big help," Hamels said. "It's ultimately what the organization is going to try to build around. It's what the fans want to see."

Often, Manuel has lamented his team's fielding as the season spiraled into helplessness. The Phillies have allowed more unearned runs this season than in all of 2011. Use any defensive metric - or just your two eyes - and this team is far worse defensively than many of its recent predecessors.

The extra drills appeared before the trade deadline, when the Phillies remodeled their roster. Manuel said at the all-star break he decided that it was imperative for his outfielders to keep throwing in practice to maintain arm strength. (The Phillies, though, entered Tuesday fourth in the majors with 22 outfield assists.)

Manuel plans on instituting the drill once every homestand.

"We used to never have trouble on our defense," Manuel said. "In the last couple of years, our defense has kind of gotten out of whack. When you get a lot of new players and everything, I can see how that could happen. We definitely need work on our defense."

Most eyes are on Brown, the 24-year-old with such promise but also defensive shortcomings. In eight games, he has shown few flaws.

His arm from left is as good as ever, demonstrated by the fifth-inning throw Tuesday. McCann thought he had a sure double as the ball bounced to the corner. Brown fielded it cleanly, and in one sweeping motion he fired a strike to Chase Utley at second. McCann was out by a good five feet.

"It was awesome," Hamels said.

"He's caught," Manuel said, "what he's supposed to catch."

Hamels had not won in two previous starts since signing his megadeal. He was buoyed by a three-run Phillies first inning in which Jimmy Rollins and Brown doubled before a Ryan Howard home run.

It was all Hamels needed to make a last-place team look unbeatable. Hamels threw his four pitches with conviction. He used his otherworldly change-up 22 times, and 19 were strikes.

"He was strong at the end," Manuel said.

The reward for a team's sharpness was written in black ink on a whiteboard in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse after Tuesday's win. Batting practice is indoors Wednesday, and it does not start until 5:30 p.m.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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