Still Waiting on a Hamels Eruption

We nearly saw it. We were so close to seeing that missing Cole Hamels performance from his game log that shows “CG”. It didn’t happen, but it was nonetheless a stellar outing.

Hamels went 7 2/3 innings on Sunday and may have been able to pitch the ninth if not for a few borderline calls by home plate umpire Todd Tichenor. Thus, he settled for “nearly-great” in the Phillies 1-0, sweep-clinching victory over Cincinnati; he was not as crisp as some previous games.

Hamels would walk three, strike out three, and allow six hits en route to his seventh win of the season. It was actually his first scoreless outing of the season; his first since September 1, 2009 against the Giants. By shutting the Reds down today, his ERA fell from 4.09 to a more respectable 3.78. Still, there is something left to be desired.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s been outstanding for the better part of 2010. Forget about 2009 – it’s distant memory. Hamels has put that behind him to piece together a fine campaign. Yet, he can be even better, and he realizes it.

When asked about getting out of a bases loaded jam in the 4th inning, and if that would have happened last year, Hamels responded: “I think I would have been out of the game last year.”

Now, the Phils #2 has been able to harness the bad energy and seemingly turn it into good. Cole hasn’t allowed a tough inning to derail him in the way it did a season ago. He has kept his composure from start to finish, even though no one would have faulted him today if he became slightly ticked off at Tichenor behind the plate for some of his outrageous calls.

Hamels says that comes from now having the physical and mental knowledge of what it takes to get through a long season. He’s been able to apply these findings this year – whatever he wisdom he gained has served him well.

Some of that can be attributed to using new pitches in a positive way. Hamels said his curveball, which he’s been trying to figure out for 14 years, has now been commanded. He also talked about keeping his pitches down in the zone, which is a main focus of any successful pitcher in this league. Some figure out how to do it on a consistent basis, some don’t. Hamels finally has. This is as close to 2008 Cole Hamels as we’ve seen.

One unsettling trend in this turnaround year has been his penchant for the free pass. His walks are up considerably compared to last year (39 BB in 112 innings in ’10, 43 BB in 193 innings in ’09). Other than that spike in the wrong direction, his peripheral stats have been moving on an upward trend.

On the other hand, he’s pitching with authority later into games. Nine times in 2010, Hamels has gone seven innings or more. In ’09, he accomplished that 10 times all season. Also, manager Charlie Manuel has left Cole out there longer in terms of pitches thrown. He’s responding well to the workload. In 2009, Hamels reached the 110 pitch plateau 11 times over 32 starts. Eighteen starts into the 2010 year that number has already hit nine.

The second half is shaping up to be quite promising for the 26 year-old. With a pack of pitches he’s proud of and a new understanding for the grind of a 162 game season, Hamels could give us an even better second half. We may not see complete games on the regular, but it’s consistency that counts. Right now, Cole Hamels is providing just that, and at a time when the rest of the roster is striving for that very same thing.

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