Cole Hamels threw seven innings of one-run ball through 87 pitches in the Phillies' 3-2 win over the Nationals on Monday. (AP)
Averaging 104 pitches per game headed into Monday night’s game against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, with outings of 123, 118 and 114 pitches in three of his last four starts, Cole Hamels appeared to be just warming up by the time the seventh inning ended.
With just 87 pitches (69 strikes), first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 24 hitters he faced and no innings in which he threw more than 17 pitches, it appeared as if Hamels was ready to go nine — maybe 10 — innings on Monday night.
But 87 pitches were more than manager Ryne Sandberg expected from Hamels in a 3-2 victory over the Nationals (see Instant Replay). Based on his workload of 193 innings in 29 starts and a pregame bullpen session that worried the manager and pitching coach Rich Dubee, no one knew what to expect from the lefty.
They certainly didn’t expect one of his best outings of the season, during which he allowed just two hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. The only run the Nats got off Hamels was on an 0-2, two-out solo homer from Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning.
“I heard of numerous stories where guys have the flu and go out and have the games of their lives,” Hamels said. “You try to use everything you have inside of you and focus and really execute pitches with everything you have.”
Hamels chalked up the rough bullpen session to a sore back he said he suffered while bar hopping during the road trip in Chicago. Yes, he was joking, adding that he and Sandberg “didn’t get into a fistfight” when the manager chose to take him out of the game after seven innings.
Jokes aside, Hamels said the pain in his back came from playing four straight day games and a hectic schedule that hasn't granted the Phillies a day off since Aug. 15.
“Sometimes the travel and day games can kind of mess your rhythm a little bit,” Hamels said. “At the same time, you have to know your body and trust it and make good decisions for the long haul. That’s what Ryno, Dubee and I tried to make. Luckily I was able to go deep enough to give us a chance.”
But nothing seemed to bother Hamels during the game. Featuring a changeup that is devastating even on an off night, Hamels’ bread-and-butter off-speed pitch was nearly unhittable on Monday night. Against 24 hitters, Hamels had just one three-ball count and four two-ball counts.
“He was nasty tonight. That changeup was as nasty or the second best it's been all season long,” Rollins said. “He hit his spots and he threw every pitch where he wanted to.”
Sandberg said Hamels threw a “power changeup” against the Nats. It also makes one wonder what Hamels could have done on Monday night if his bullpen session had gone well.
“It was one of his better outings with his command and his changeup,” Sandberg said. “With a little less velocity on his changeup it was much more effective and it got to the hitting zone, it was really dipping and kept guys off balance. And that made his fastball that much better.”
The problem for Hamels and the Phillies was that they had to go up against ace righty Stephen Strasburg, who matched Hamels through six innings. The Phillies didn’t get a hit until the fourth inning and scratched out just two broken-bat hits off Strasburg. The lone run off the right-hander came when Jimmy Rollins walked to lead off the fourth and moved up to second when catcher Wilson Ramos’ throw back to the pitcher clunked off Chase Utley’s bat. Rollins then came around on Carlos Ruiz’s broken-bat single.
The pair repeated a similar scenario in the eighth when Ruiz again drove home Rollins from second base with a single, only this one was the game-winner off reliever Tyler Clippard. Rollins set up the go-ahead run with a 10-pitch double to send home call-up Cesar Hernandez, who worked a two-out walk.
Of all the inexplicable innings the Phils’ offense has cobbled together this season, the bottom of the eighth was amazingly efficient. It took seven pitches for the Phillies to make two outs after relievers Justin De Fratus and Cesar Jimenez allowed the Nats to take the lead in the top half of the frame, and then 16 pitches to Hernandez, who walked, before Rollins doubled him in.
An intentional walk to Utley then set the table for Ruiz.
“It actually started before that with Cesar having a good at-bat. That gave us a chance,” Rollins said. “We had to start from ground zero in the ninth inning. We were hoping to put some at-bats together and it worked out.”
In his last eight starts, Hamels has a 2-1 record and 1.98 ERA while averaging more than seven innings per outing. His battery mate Ruiz has been nearly as good with the bat during that stretch. In his last 27 games, Ruiz is hitting .344 (31 for 90) with eight doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs.
“It was a pitchers’ duel and a tight game, and it was an exciting hit there with two outs in the clutch,” Sandberg said. “Guys were excited about the rally and having those clutch hits come.”
The series continues on Tuesday night when rookie Ethan Martin (2-3, 6.39) takes on lefty Gio Gonzalez (8-6, 3.56). Martin, who will make his seventh start, has never faced the Nationals. Last time out, the hard-throwing righty had a career-high nine strikeouts in just four innings against the Mets.