What to make of Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels?

Posted: April 09, 2013

THE DICHOTOMY of the start of the baseball season is that with 162 games, it's still too early to get excited about the good things. It is never, however, too soon to raise an eyebrow at the bad ones.

So, what do you make of Cole Hamels now that the Phillies' ace has crapped out in his first two starts?

Unlike last year, when he struggled in his first start at Citizens Bank Park, none of the home faithful booed Hamels after he blew a four-run lead and left in the sixth inning of a 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. That was reserved for struggling first baseman Ryan Howard after he struck out for the third time.

For Hamels, we're only talking about two starts, so it's quite a bit early to say you're worried that his season already being doomed to six-inning outings and a double-digit ERA. Still, that's where the $144 million man is after flameouts in the season opener in Atlanta and his follow-up appearance on Sunday.

Against the Braves, Hamels surrendered three home runs and five earned runs in five innings of a 7-5 loss. You could chalk that up to a number of things - first Opening Day start jitters, cold weather or simply a bad outing.

Against Kansas City, Hamels imploded.

Staked to a 4-0 lead after the first inning, Hamels never found a rhythm. He was erratic locating the strike zone and was constantly pitching behind. He began to unravel in the third inning, giving up a run-scoring double to Alcides Escobar and another run on a ground out, and let it all hit the fan in the fifth.

With one out and runners on first and third, Hamels walked Escobar on four pitches. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Rich Dubee.

But rather than bear down the way he made a living last season, Hamels threw a first-pitch ball to Royals first baseman Billy Butler. Hamels then tried to slip a fastball by Butler, but the Royal whose nickname is "Country Breakfast" hit a grand slam to left.

Hamels was charged with two more runs in the sixth inning.

His line for the game was a troubling 5 2/3 innings, nine hits and eight earned runs. He threw 106 pitches.

Hamels (0-2, 10.97) never had allowed eight earned runs in a game and hadn't allowed a grand slam in a major league career that started in 2006.

In two starts, Hamels has given up 13 earned runs and four home runs. He hadn't had back-to-back games with five or more earned runs since April 2009.

Most bothersome Sunday is that Hamels was given a four-run lead. You expect your No. 1 starter to pitch with confidence and hold on to a big lead. Before Sunday, Hamels had posted a 45-5 record when given such a lead.

When your ace is on the mound and he gets a cushion like that, you expect a comfortable day at the office, not a frustrating loss that drops you to 2-4 and reinforces many of the concerns people had about your team coming into the season.

Hamels' collapse literally sucked all the good feeling generated from Saturday's ninth-inning, come-from-behind victory.

The Phillies almost bailed Hamels out by rallying for four runs in the ninth inning, but the bottom line is that it should not have come down to that.

"I am not giving the team the opportunity to win," Hamels said. "You score runs early, and you want to keep the team in the ballgame. I wasn't able to do that.

"I'm not winning games. I feel good with all of my pitches; unfortunately, it's not showing. The end results are we're not winning games when I'm pitching."

I can't get all worked up with worry about Hamels after just two starts. People who still question his toughness and think this is a harbinger are stuck in a time bubble back in 2009, when Hamels was a younger and less-seasoned pitcher.

Hamels has nothing more to prove about the bulldog in him, about his competiveness.

Assuming good health, Hamels should get around 30 more starts this season. I'd expect him to be way closer to the pitcher who posted ERAs of 3.06, 2.79 and 3.05 over the last three seasons.

But when things get off to as a bad a start as they have for Hamels, it's difficult to see past today and look down the road for good things that should still come.

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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