Inside the Phillies: Hamels says he's back in his element, and proves it

Cole Hamels allowed four hits and struck out 11 in seven innings Wednesday.
Cole Hamels allowed four hits and struck out 11 in seven innings Wednesday. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 07, 2013

Cole Hamels had a great Fall Classic in 2008 and an epic fall in 2009.

The World Series MVP spent the offseason enjoying the accolades and, by his own admission, wasn't ready to return to work the following season after logging more innings in 2008 than he had at any point in his career.

The second most significant event of Hamels' baseball life occurred late last July. With the team struggling and Hamels' name floating on the trade market, the Phillies quashed all the rumors and signed the lefthander to a six-year deal worth $144 million.

Another monumental struggle has followed.

Hamels, anointed the new ace of the team by Roy Halladay in spring training, arrived for work Wednesday morning at Citizens Bank Park with a 1-9 record, a 4.86 ERA, and a million reasons to be frustrated. The Phillies had held the lead in just six of his 74 innings this season and scored three or fewer runs in seven of his 12 starts.

When he pitched well, they didn't score. When they scored, he didn't pitch well.

Among the most unbelievable things that have happened this season, the Phillies' 1-11 record in Hamels' first dozen starts ranks right near the top. A team that made the climb to .500 look more difficult than a trip to the peak of Mount Everest would be in so much better shape had it only won more often with Hamels on the mound.

Hamels, for his part, thinks he has figured out his end of things, and he did his best to provide proof by pitching seven dominating innings Wednesday in a 6-1 win that allowed the Phillies to complete a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins.

"I learned a couple of weeks ago that I can't control the game as much as I thought," he said. "When you're trying to be too fine, you're just putting yourself in a really bad situation. I think that's what I was doing earlier on. When you have 3-2 counts on almost every hitter, you're not going to win, and you're not going to last long in the game. That's not how I've been pitching the baseball the past couple of years. I was out of my element."

Hamels had issued 24 walks through his first nine starts, including 11 in one three-game stretch. A year ago, he did not walk his 24th batter until his 15th start of the season. The year before, he went 19 starts before he walked his 24th batter.

The 29-year-old lefthander walked one batter Wednesday, allowed four hits, and struck out 11. He has walked just two batters and struck out 30 in his last four starts.

"Early on, I think Cole was using a lot of pitches to get through six innings of baseball or even five innings because he wasn't attacking the strike zone," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "I think . . . he has pretty much rectified that. He's back to pounding the strike zone."

What has happened to Hamels in 2013 does not at all resemble his turbulent 2009 season, according to Dubee.

"Look at his stuff," the coach said. "He's a couple of mistakes or bad breaks here or there from pitching some absolute gems. For me, his numbers are very misleading. His won-lost record (2-9), his ERA (4.56), they are both very misleading."

Hamels emphatically dismissed the link between his poor 2009 and his horrendous start this season.

"In 2009, I wasn't healthy, and I had two pitches," he said. "Now, I'm healthy, and I think I have five pitches."

Regardless of the arsenal, Hamels was not immune to the frustration every pitcher and player so often feels in this game of failure.

He has pitched six or more innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs nine times in 13 starts, and is 2-5 in those outings. Teammate Cliff Lee endured a similar experience last season, going winless through 13 starts with a 4.13 ERA. He went 6-4 with a 2.44 ERA in his final 17 starts and is dominating again this season.

"Obviously, he's had some tough luck, and last year I had some tough luck," Lee said. "But he knows what he's doing, and all you can do is go out there and continue to pitch. I don't really feel like I need to tell him that. He already knows that. He's got a pretty good handle on his routine and what he does, and he's focusing on that. That's all you can do."

Halladay, in town after undergoing surgery last month, still believes that Hamels will flash the form expected of a staff ace.

"What's happened to this point is over and done with," Halladay said, describing a viewpoint he always has subscribed to as a pitcher. "Cole is going to move on from here, and he's going to be fine. . . . He's still going to be one of the better pitchers in baseball."

Some people believe he is still exactly that even with the ugly record and elevated ERA.

"What's not to like?" a scout said after Wednesday's game. "Same old Hamels to me."


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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