By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—After winning 17 games last season, Cole Hamels struggled in the first half of the season with bad outings and not getting run support. The Phillies are just 11-18 in his 29 starts.
With the Phillies out of the pennant race, Hamels has pitched well in the second half of the season. In his last 12 starts including Monday’s game against the Nationals, Hamels is 4-2 with a 2.25 earned run average, allowing just two runs or less in nine of those 12 starts.
This season, Hamels is 6-13 with a 3.50 ERA including Monday night’s no decision against the Washington Nationals. Last year, he was 17-6 and was the beneficiary of a few good breaks here and there. That hasn’t been the case this season.
Monday night’s game against the Nationals was typical of the futility in terms of wins that Hamels has experienced this season. He allowed just one run on just two hits and he had eight strikeouts in seven innings, but didn’t get the win.
Hamels did a good job of mixing his pitches, especially his change up and was ahead in the count against most of the batters he faced. When he left the game, the score was 1-1. He threw 87 pitches.
“He was nasty tonight,” said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who drove in the game-tying run in the eighth inning. “His changeup probably the best it’s been all season long. He hit his spots. He threw every pitch where he wanted to. … Unfortunately, he didn’t come up for that next inning, he did everything he needed to do to give us a chance.”
The Phillies eventually won the game 3-2, but scored their two runs an inning after Hamels left the game. Carlos Ruiz’s RBI single that scored Rollins in the bottom of the eighth won the game for the Phillies.
What made Hamels performance Monday night even more remarkable was that he came into the game feeling a little stiff after warm ups, something he attributed to pitching in day games and road trips.
“Sometimes, later in the year, it’s a little hard to get loose sometimes,” Hamels said.
Even with his record as lopsided as it is, Hamels said all he wants to do is to pitch well enough to give his team a chance to win.
“It’s been a long of year of that,” Hamels said. “If it’s a case of me giving the team a chance to win. That’s all I can ask for. …When you go out there every five days, try to finish a game or if you can’t, your team is going to try to come away with the win.”
Hamels’ recent run of success begs the question: What went wrong earlier this year? After a season in which he signed a six-year, $144 million contract, Hamels just could not find his groove earlier in the season.
“Overall, I would say that in the first half of the season, his command off just enough so that he was behind in the count and the hitters would be in more hitting counts and had better chances to hit,” said Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg.
“(Hamels) stuff was still the same, it was just a sliver of command issues. The second half he’s been as far as that. He works ahead of the hitters and then he goes to off-speed stuff which works to his advantage.”
Hamels said the thing that’s made a difference for him in the second half of the season is having the confidence to throw all four of his pitches, doing his homework on the opposition and not being afraid to be aggressive.
“Just preparing a lot more about and really knowing who I’ve got up, their tendencies and then going out there and executing the pitch,” Hamels said. “Not being afraid to start a guy off with a certain pitch, not being afraid to throw strikes and not being afraid to throw balls down the middle.”
Sandberg also said Hamels teammates haven’t helped him much on the offensive end as well. Injuries to players like Ryan Howard and the team’s poor hitting have made things difficult for Hamels.
“As far as everything else, I think it’s been one of those years where a lot of things haven’t gone his way,” Sandberg said. “Run support being one of those things. A lot of times he did not have the lead. He did not pitch with the lead.”
After watching his performance Monday night, Sandberg seeing Hamels pitch as well as he did against Washington was a welcome sight considering his struggles early in the season.
“This late in the year for that kind of an outing from him is every encouraging,” Sandberg said. “He’s been on a roll and having outing like this is great to see.”