A little more than nine years ago, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels drilled up-and-coming Nationals star Bryce Harper. There were two outs and nobody on in the first inning. The pitch didn’t slip away from him. Hamels knew what he was doing.
“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said after the game. “I’m not going to deny it.”
It was Hamels’ old school way of welcoming the then 19-year-old to the big leagues. Two innings later, Harper responded by stealing home on a pickoff play. Laynce Nix’s throw to Carlos Ruiz at home plate was not in time.
Friday’s game marked the second time Harper had successfully stolen home in his MLB career. He became the first Phillie to steal second, third and home in a game since his former Nats teammate Jayson Werth did it against the Dodgers in 2009.
There is a convenient connection to be made between the Hamels-Harper drama from nine years back to where the Phillies are now. They could target a back end starter and Hamels is just one of the many arms the Phillies are considering.
“Cole is one of the best to ever do it in a Phillies uniform,” Harper said Friday when asked about the possibility of playing with Hamels. “I have a lot of respect for him, the way he went about it for his whole career. Any team that gets him is definitely going to be really good.”
The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Phillies could exceed the $210 million luxury tax threshold. A No. 4 starter is among their main targets, according to the report. The 37-year-old Hamels would need to start off in the minor leagues to tune up for his eventual debut, which doesn’t bode well for a Phillies team that has an immediate need for an extra arm. Zach Eflin is on the injured list with right patella tendinitis and Bailey Falter is reportedly out through at least the weekend due to COVID-19 protocols. Matt Moore, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola’s collective struggles also amplify the need for more starting pitching.
There are obvious risks that come with signing Hamels. He has dealt with shoulder and tricep issues in recent seasons and struggled mightily in the second half of 2019, his last full season in the majors.
If the Phillies are willing to accept the risk, meet Hamels’ asking price and be patient as he works is way towards a return, he could back in red pinstripes for one last playoff push with the team he spent the first 10 years of his career with.
And judging by his comments after Friday’s game, Harper would be delighted to share a clubhouse with his former rival. There were no hard feeling back in 2012 and it appears not much has changed since then.
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