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.

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off at third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time. 

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the 9th inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco’s contribution on the base paths felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent and errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third after the ball got loose in the infield.Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

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When Aaron Nola pitches like he did Thursday, there aren't too many teams capable of beating him.

Nola was locked in against the Cardinals in the Phillies' 5-1 win, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts (see Instant Replay). His first seven innings were scoreless and his pitch count was at just 89, so he had the chance for his first-ever complete game and the Phillies' first of the season.

But Paul DeJong greeted Nola in the eighth with a solo homer, and after a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter, Nola's day was done. He left to a loud ovation from Phillies fans who have been waiting a long time to see this guy again.

"Well that's the Nola we all have come to know and love," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was outstanding today. ... He was painting on both sides of the plate. Real good curveball. Threw a lot of good changeups. I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through."

Nola had elite command of his two-seam fastball and curveball on this day. Five of his eight strikeouts were looking as he continuously froze Cardinals hitters with two-seamers that started outside and darted back over the outside corner. Everything was low in the zone. The curveball was sharp and biting with late life, and St. Louis' hitters kept swinging over top of it.

This was the Nola worth drafting in the first round. This was the Nola who can legitimately be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do and today was me," Nola said. "I felt confident in all my pitches today and commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.

"I always try to visualize [success]. I know what I'm capable of doing and what pitches I can command. It's just those days where you feel really good about it and you're really confident about executing to both sides of the plate."

Last year during spring training, Mackanin compared Nola's skill set to that of a pitcher he managed in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League. That pitcher was Greg Maddux. 

"I'll just say this and I probably shouldn't, but I'm just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux]," Mackanin said last February.

"He shows no fear, he's very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself."

On Thursday, Nola fit every piece of that description. And just like Nick Pivetta built confidence with his nine-strikeout performance last week against the Red Sox that carried over into a 10-K night against the Cardinals (see story), this has a chance to be a real building block for Nola.

Throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters will get you a long way.

"He got ahead of almost every hitter I guarantee you, he was strike one," catcher Cameron Rupp said.  

"And when you do that, that opens up so many doors with your pitch sequence, being able to pitch and get in on guys, maybe throw a purpose pitch for a ball, maybe they swing and you're 0-2 and that opens up the outer half even bigger. He threw strikes, he pounded the zone, and when you do that, you're going to have so much success. 

"That's what he did his first year-and-a-half up here. He got away from locating his pitches and the injuries, I'm sure, didn't help, but he attacked the zone and did a great job for us. ... When you do that, the sky is the limit, and he showed that today."