For Cole Hamels, tough '13 was character builder

For Cole Hamels, tough '13 was character builder
January 30, 2014, 4:30 pm
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Cole Hamels last season received 3.52 of run support per game, fourth-lowest in the National League. (AP)

If the Phillies have proven one thing over the last two seasons, it's that they can still lose with their two aces pitching well.

Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee have made 125 combined starts since 2012. They've averaged 7.0 innings in those starts, an astronomical mark in this day and age. Their composite ERA is 3.17, and they've struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.7.

By practically every measure, they've been dominant.

And yet in those 125 starts, the Phillies are 62-63.

The reasonable person asks, how is that even possible?

Well, Lee has been given just 3.51 runs of support over that two-year span -- worst in all of baseball.

In 2013, Hamels received 3.52 per game, fourth-lowest in the National League.

Hamels allowed 88 earned runs in 2013, and the Phillies scored 86 for him.

Incredibly frustrating for anyone who's watched the Phils last two seasons. Equally annoying to the pitchers themselves?

"I don't know if it's necessarily [frustrating] to the pitchers, but you do want to motivate your hitters even more," Hamels told CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury earlier this week. "And it's not just for my start, it's for the other four guys you have.

"You can't be a cheerleader all the time -- that's exhausting in itself -- but you have to be able to motivate your own teammates and pick up something and maybe give them a hint or some help along the way because that's what being a good teammate is all about. So I think it was learning to not just focus on what I had to do but focus on everybody else as a whole."

That's a lot of responsibility for one man to bear, especially when he's already going out and throwing up zeroes on the scoreboard and doing his own job.

The Phillies' offense was putrid last season. Errors aside, they reached base 1,825 times, or 11.3 times per game. Only twice in the 52 years since the NL switched to a 162-game schedule have the Phillies reached base fewer times.

Their opponents, meanwhile, reached 2,033 times, or 12.5 per game.

"Earlier in the beginning, especially the first couple innings, you want to get off to a hot start, it's always nice to have runs," Hamels said. "But at the same time, I think I was able to get that, but then I was giving it away."

That was true a few times for Hamels in 2013. In the home opener, the Phils spotted him four runs in the bottom of the first, but he fell apart in the fifth and sixth innings and ultimately allowed eight runs in 5 2/3.

On May 31, the Phils scored three runs for him in the bottom of first, but Hamels was then knocked around by the Brewers to the tune of seven runs on 12 hits.

A few weeks later, the Phillies led the Mets 3-0 after two with Hamels on the mound, but he allowed four runs in the middle three innings and lost. His record dropped to 2-11.

But those games were the exceptions. For the most part, the Phillies didn't score for Hamels, early or late. There were too many games -- with Hamels or anyone else on the mound -- where you'd look up at the scoreboard in the sixth inning and see no runs and two hits on the Phillies' ledger.

That's how a Cole Hamels loses 14 games.

He admitted the career-worst 8-14 record in 2013 bothered him, at least partially.

"It does for a little bit, but then at the same time you have to look at the positives," Hamels said.

"Even though I wasn't able to help this team win as much as I want to, I still battled away. I still gave our team a chance in a lot more of those starts than the 14 of them. And it just gives you something to build on for the next year, something to put in the back of your mind while you're working out in the offseason, just to kind of work a little bit harder. Gives you a sort of edge that you need to be successful."