Anger, fastball fuel Hamels in win over Giants

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Anger, fastball fuel Hamels in win over Giants

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Cole Hamels had a terrific fastball Thursday afternoon and he rode it to a 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants (see Instant Replay).

In the clubhouse after the game, Hamels wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Fitness Sucks."

It was an ironic fashion choice because Hamels credited his strength and fitness routine for the 95-mph fastball that he featured in delivering eight innings of one-walk, 10-strikeout baseball.

Hamels began the season on the disabled list after a wintertime bout of shoulder tendinitis. That fastball left no doubt about the health of his arm.

“I think it’s just the workouts that I’ve been able to do in spring training and throughout the season that are starting to kick in,” Hamels said. “Just changing my routine enough where everything stays loose but strong.”

Right from the get-go, it was clear that Hamels was pitching with some edge, some urgency, some anger. He blew a 95-mph fastball by the Giants’ best player, Buster Posey, to end the top of the first inning, and got Hunter Pence on another 95-mph heater in the fifth. Hamels struck out Pence, a Phillie tormenter, three times.

Afterward, Hamels admitted to being in a bit of a bad mood when he took the mound. He’d seen the Giants beat the Phillies three straight nights and wanted to write a different story.

“It’s just about going out there and being able to compete and having a little extra adrenaline and anger, trying to prove a point,” he said. “Just trying to go out and let it happen. I think losing the past three games, you just want to go out there and win.

“It was fun today.”

Run support is often a problem for Hamels and it has been his last two starts. The Phils have scored just four runs -- and both of their runs Thursday were unearned -- in Hamels' last two starts, but that hasn’t stopped the lefty from winning twice. He beat the Braves by the same score, 2-1, his last time out.

In his last two starts, Hamels has allowed just two runs in 15 innings. He has walked one and struck out 19.

“He's pitched like an ace,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “When we get him some runs, obviously that has lacked in some of his outings, but a little run support and where he is at right now, he’s at the top of his game.”

Thursday’s run support came in the form of a hustle double by Jimmy Rollins in the first inning, a passed ball and an RBI single by Marlon Byrd.

In the fifth inning, Giants leftfielder Michael Morse dropped a blooper off the bat of Ben Revere and it went for a two-base error. Revere scored on a hit by Chase Utley.

Hamels made the two runs stand up -- with a little help from Jonathan Papelbon, who bounced back from a blown save and a loss the previous two nights and recorded his 24th save.

Though just 5-5, Hamels has a 2.72 ERA in 18 starts. He has 125 strikeouts in 122 1/3 innings and has allowed just 102 hits.

Hamels’ name continues to pop up in trade rumblings and the Phillies would listen to offers, but the price is extremely steep -- as it should be. The Phillies, who are 14 games under .500 and headed for a third straight year of no postseason, prefer to rebuild their team around the 30-year-old lefty and performances like this show why.

It was two years ago this week that Hamels signed his $144 million contract extension with the Phils. He is signed through 2018 with an option for 2019.

Hamels was asked if he had any regrets about staying in Philly?

Though he did not answer the question directly, he did not come off as a guy that wants to leave.

“I think the decision I made at the time was with the promise that we would go out and win the whole time when I was here,” he said. “I knew we had Doc [Halladay] and Cliff [Lee] and I felt confident what we could do as a pitching staff.

“But I enjoy pitching here. All the sellouts (2008-2012) and everything that the fans and the organization were able to do for all of us made it an easy decision because it is so much fun to come to this ballpark and win. That’s what I was expecting and what I’m trying to still do.”

He succeeded on Thursday.

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

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