Cole Hamels delivers real leadership, two scoreless innings

Posted: February 24, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The new leader of the starting rotation did exactly what he was supposed to do in the Grapefruit League opener Saturday, but still the Phillies could not beat the Houston Astros.

This we offer as proof that spring-training leadership week was blown way out of proportion.

Or maybe Saturday's fall-from-ahead loss was just more evidence that regardless of how wretched the Astros become, the Phillies will always have a hard time beating them. The good news about that is the Astros have moved to the American League West, never to be seen again in Philadelphia as anything other than an interleague opponent.

A lack of leadership was way down the list as to why the Phillies finished .500 in 2012. It's kind of like a driver blaming a slightly cracked windshield for failing to win the Daytona 500.

Blown leads, bad defense, and injuries to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay were the biggest reasons the Phillies' win total fell by 21 games from 2011 to 2012.

A blown lead and bad defense also contributed to Saturday's meaningless loss to the Astros. If those things are not cleaned up, then the Phillies can lead the league in leaders and they'll still need a telescope to find the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves at the top of the National League East standings.

The day after closer Jonathan Papelbon triggered Leadergate, Halladay, the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff since his arrival in 2010, said it was time for Cole Hamels to take the torch and run with it.

"He's probably the best guy you could ever try to emulate yourself after," Hamels said of Halladay. "I've got a lot of respect for him, so it's obviously nice to hear because he's one of the best teammates I've been able to pitch under and I look forward to pitching with every day."

That was the right response to kind words from a relentless workhorse who has been among the best pitchers in baseball for the last decade.

Hamels, 29, also played the role of diplomat in responding to Papelbon's claim earlier in the week that he hadn't seen any leadership since joining the Phillies last season.

"I agree with Pap," he said. "Last year, I wasn't fulfilling my end of the bargain either. We are all guilty. I know I get to pitch thirty-something games, and those were the games I was focused on and I wasn't focused on the other 130-some games, where I could have motivated guys or at least helped some guys out if they were doing something wrong."

That's fine, but Hamels was a tremendous leader at the age of 24 in 2008 when he started the first game of each postseason series and won every time. The Phillies won all five of his starts and the World Series.

You can't lead any better than that.

Hamels, after retiring six of the seven batters he faced in his two-inning spring-training debut Saturday, downplayed starting the opener April 1 in Atlanta.

"It's one game, one appearance, and then you're back into the normal baseball [routine]," he said. "When you have to lead off the playoff game and a series, I think that's pretty important."

Hamels' maturity is a good sign, but we've seen it for a few years.

"He's matured tremendously," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He's a father now. Those things are all part of growing up and becoming a man, and Cole is definitely a man."

He's also becoming a quiet leader. But it's far more important that he remains a dominant starting pitcher.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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