PITTSBURGH -– Cole Hamels is just being honest. He still doesn’t get why manager Charlie Manuel gave him two extra days of rest.
Q: “Do you understand why they did this?”
Then he cracked up laughing.
Whatever the reason, it sure worked.
Hamels -- working on seven days rest -- earned his first win in a month and third win in 18 starts this year Thursday afternoon, pitching seven strong innings in the Phillies’ 6-4 win over the Pirates at PNC Park before a sold-out July 4 crowd that included probably 10,000 Phillies fans (see Instant Replay).
It worked, but Hamels conceded he wasn’t thrilled when Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee told him last week that he wouldn’t be taking his regular turn on Tuesday.
“I think like anybody, you just kind of listen and spill a few words of your own,” he said, declining to identify those words. “Obviously, I’m not the decision maker, so I have to just do what I’m told and make sure I’m ready.”
Hamels joked after the Phillies won their first series at PNC Park since 2008 that the extra time off was designed to clear his head after a 2-11 start that sent his ERA to an uncharacteristic 4.58.
“They told me to go up to the mountains and light a couple candles,” he said, laughing again.
But the end result was a good one. The three-time All-Star turned in his best outing in a month, going seven innings, allowing one earned run, striking out eight and walking none as the Phillies finished a 5-5 road trip.
That ungainly 2-11 record is now 3-11.
Hamels is a such a slave to routine, and he said, yeah, the week-long gap between starts was weird.
“Sometimes, it feels foreign, I won’t lie,” he said. “There’s a couple days where, knowing where I wasn’t going to pitch, it feels a little bit foreign, but you just fill it up with working out and throwing your bullpens and and when it’s your time to go, you better be ready to go.
“Otherwise, I mean, what else are you going to get, 14 days off? That’s not what I want.”
Hamels got good run support for a change. The six runs the Phils scored while he was in the game are the most runs he’s gotten all year.
Ben Revere led a 14-hit attack with three hits and two RBIs, and Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Delmon Young and Carlos Ruiz had two hits apiece.
It was Ruiz’s two-run single in the fifth -- his first multiple-RBI hit this year -- that broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Phils the lead for good.
The Pirates, who still have the best record in baseball at 52-32, had won nine straight before the Phils came to town.
And the Phillies, who entered the road trip with a .247 team batting average, hit .307 on the 10-game road trip.
“We were finally able to play some good baseball,” Hamels said. “They’re a team where you can’t score enough runs. They’re playing very well. They’re a good team. They’re always going to be able to fight back.”
This was vintage Hamels. He had great command, got ahead of hitters, kept the ball down, kept guys off-balance.
Things he’s done his whole career. Things he hasn’t done most of this year.
“Just being able to get back to what I know and establishing the strike zone early and throwing all my pitches,” he said. “I think ultimately, staying down in the zone, that’s kind of where I got hurt in the past. I’ve got guys right where I want them and I’m not able to finish them off. Leaving stuff up in the zone. The base hits were adding up and obviously the runs were scoring.
“Being able to get guys out early and moving the ball around, keeping them off balance. Really being able to do that early and through the middle and obviously the third time around [and] being able to mix and match so they don’t really get sort of on a certain rhythm or able to pick and choose what I’m able to throw.”
Hamels still leads the majors in losses, which is crazy considering he had a 91-60 career record coming into this season.
But he said being 2-11 and being on the brink of becoming the first Phillie to lose 12 games this early in the season in 52 years never bothered him, never played with his mind.
“I’ve played a lot of baseball, pitched a lot of games and I know I’m going to play a lot [more] baseball and pitch a lot more games, so it’s under the radar,” he said. “You kind of move on and be who you are.”
Plus, last year, Cliff Lee didn’t win his first game until the Fourth of July. So Hamels is actually ahead of his pace.
“Cliff won his first one on the Fourth of July, so I’ll consider this my first one, even though it’s not,” Hamels said. “But I feel like I earned it. … Now I’ll just try to kick on that sort of streak that he did last year.”