Another Cole Hamels gem wasted in Phillies loss

Another Cole Hamels gem wasted in Phillies loss
August 3, 2014, 6:30 pm
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Cole Hamels allowed four hits and an unearned run while striking out six in Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Nationals. (USA Today Images)

WASHINGTON -- There was no frustration in Cole Hamels’ voice as he spoke to reporters after he and the Phillies absorbed a 4-0 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday (see Instant Replay).

Hamels maintained the brilliant roll he’s been on for two months with seven innings of one-run ball. That run was unearned after third baseman Cody Asche committed a fielding error — “That play has to be made,” a dejected Asche said —and Denard Span stroked an RBI single with two outs in the third inning.

Since June 1, Hamels has pitched 92 2/3 innings over 13 starts. He has a 1.46 ERA in that span and has allowed just 69 hits while walking 24 and striking out 95.

Despite those glistening numbers, Hamels is just 5-3 over that span — and it took wins in his last three outings to get that record. Of those three wins, two were by the score of 2-1. The Hamels’ lack-of-run-support story is a tired old saga, one that even the pitcher seems to have become numb to.

This was another one of those starts when the Phillies did not hit for Hamels — of course, Washington starter Stephen Strasburg had a lot to do with that as he pitched seven shutout innings and struck out 10 — but the Phillies’ ace didn’t kick and scream about it. If the wins aren’t going to come after gems such as the one he delivered Sunday then he’s just going to enjoy his craft and the competition that it brings.

“Any time you go against a guy like Strasburg, and I’ve been able to match up with him a few times over the last few years, it’s fun,” Hamels said. “He and I are just trying to compete at the highest level and put up as many zeroes as we possibly can against each other. It brings the ultimate competition out.

“We’re both from San Diego and I think it’s something we both look forward to, and whoever wins, I think we definitely cherish it a little bit. But at the same time, tough games come down to timely hitting and execution.”

Hamels blamed himself for not executing a 1-2 fastball to Span (he said he didn’t get the pitch in enough) in the third inning. Asche’s error was another breakdown in execution and so was the bullpen’s work in the eighth inning.

As for the timely hitting, well, there was none. The Phillies had just three hits in being shut out for the 13th time — second-most in the NL — and second in as many nights. They were beaten the final two games in Washington by a combined score of 15-0.

The Phils went 3-4 on the road trip and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. failed to make a deal to shake up the stale mix on this team that is 14 games under .500.

Chase Utley had a rough trip. He went hitless in his last 16 at-bats, though he scorched a liner to first in his final at-bat Sunday, and was 1 for 20 on the trip.

Ryan Howard was hitless in his last 14 at-bats. He was 1 for 25 on the trip.

The Phillies face a lefty in Houston's Dallas Keuchel on Tuesday night so there’s a good chance Howard will sit out that game with Darin Ruf getting the start.

Manager Ryne Sandberg said he knew what Howard could do and he wanted to see what Ruf could do when he sent Howard to the bench for three games during the last homestand. But since the benching, Howard has started eight of the last nine games and is just 4 for 36 over that span.

Sandberg seems to have changed his tune on Howard. He’s now echoing Amaro’s remarks that the Phillies need to do everything in their power to get Howard going. That translates to playing him.

“We’d like to get him going for us,” Sandberg said. “And he’s working on some things. He could be a big bat for us.”

Howard has 10 strikeouts in the last nine games. Despite that, Sandberg said he has seen improvement.

“He’s made progress with making some contact,” Sandberg said. “It’s a matter of finding some holes and elevating some balls, but he’s made more contact.”

Ruf has just two starts in the last nine games, and one was in left field. Does Sandberg still want to see him as an alternative to Howard?

“We’ll see,” Sandberg said. “We’ll see as we go along. Outfield is an option and first base.”

Washington’s starting pitching was brilliant the final two games of the series. Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann combined to throw 14 scoreless innings. Together, they allowed just eight hits and one walk and struck out 18.

Strasburg gave up just three hits over seven innings Sunday. He walked one and struck out 10.

The right-hander has faced the Phillies four times this season. In 25 2/3 innings, he has allowed just four earned runs (1.40 ERA) while striking out 35 and walking just four.

He’s a tough pitcher for any team to face, never mind a poor hitting team like the Phillies.

At least Hamels enjoys it.

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