CLEARWATER, Fla. After pitching two innings against the New York Yankees in his spring debut Saturday, Cole Hamels ventured out to the bullpen beyond the leftfield wall and completed his day with 15 more pitches.
For the fans pressed up against the fence on a summery, sun-splashed day at Bright House Field, it was a treat to watch the 28-year-old lefthander up close.
Most of those fans wore Phillies red.
But some wore navy blue.
The Yankees fans were real nice for some odd reason, Hamels said with a laugh. I dont know why.
Hamels knows full well why Yankees fans were so friendly. He could be the premier pitcher on the free-agent market after this season and the Yankees almost always go after the best free-agent pitchers. Clearly, their fans endorse a run at Hamels.
Fans these days, they prepare themselves, Hamels said. They have the information and they know when things are coming up.
The Phillies say they will do their best to keep Hamels off the free-agent market. The two sides have been quietly talking about a contract extension, one that would likely pay Hamels among the elite pitchers in the game.
Hamels had the best year of his career last year a 2.79 ERA and a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting and hes intent on building on that this season. He is in excellent physical condition and fully confident in his pitching arsenal after perfecting a cutter the last two seasons. Before the cutter, Hamels was mostly a fastball-changeup guy.
According to www.fangraphs.com, a baseball statistics and analysis Website, Hamels threw 45 percent fastballs, 24 percent changeups, 20 percent cutters and 10 percent curveballs last season. His opponents batting average was .214, seventh-best in the majors. In 2009, before Hamels started throwing the cutter, his opponents batting average was .273. That ranked 60th in the majors.
Last season, Hamels WHIP (walks and hits per innings) was 0.98, third-best in the majors behind Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, the Cy Young winners from the two leagues.
Being able to have two or three pitches to finish off a hitter is nice, Hamels said. I used to flip the coin -- fastball or changeup, occasionally a curveball if it was on. Now I have the cutter and changeup and can throw it to both sides of the plate. Its a lot nicer to be able to do that especially with how many at-bats guys get against you.
Last year I threw the cutter in any count, any time, to both sides of the plate. Its helped out a lot.
Hamels allowed three hits and a run in his two-inning spring debut Saturday. He struck out one. The run scored on a bloop double down the left-field line by old friend Raul Ibanez.
Its nice to get the opposing team in there and see what youre all about, what kind of shape youre in and if youre able to execute pitches in certain counts, Hamels said. I was able to throw fastballs in and away, changeups in and away, and cutters in and away and that was good. Like always, I will add the curveball in later because I want to make sure those three pitches are right before I start throwing the curveball.
But the main part is to get out there and get into pitching shape. I feel really good right now.
The Phillies lost the game, 8-5.
New closer Jonathan Papelbon debuted with a scoreless inning. Newcomers Dontrelle Willis and Chad Qualls also received their first work with the club. Willis allowed one run and Qualls allowed three, two coming on a home run by Cole Garner.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at firstname.lastname@example.org