Cole Hamels hits on the issues: Team chemistry


Cole Hamels hits on the issues: Team chemistry

Cole Hamels sat down Monday with for an extensive interview covering a wide range of topics. Here is the first part of our week-long series:

In five of his first six major league seasons, Cole Hamels experienced the thrill of postseason baseball.

But he and his Phillies teammates have spent the last two Octobers at home.

“It’s been miserable,” Hamels said Monday. “I don’t even want to watch the postseason. I want to be part of it.”

In two weeks, Hamels and his teammates will assemble in Clearwater, Fla., to begin their quest to return to the playoffs after two disappointing seasons, the last of which resulted in just 73 wins (the team’s fewest since 2000) and the firing of manager Charlie Manuel.

Want to feel old? Hamels turned 30 last month. And though he’s still younger than many of his teammates, he knows his baseball clock is ticking. He also knows the clock is ticking on this team and that management could concede to a rebuilding effort by midseason 2014 if the club is not in contention.

Hamels says he wants no part of that.

“It will probably be reiterated early in spring training and during the season that we really do have to make it because we don’t want to break it,” Hamels said.

In his first interview of the New Year, Hamels spoke with about a number of topics Monday, including the team’s performance in 2013, clubhouse chemistry and the possibility of rebuilding.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Hamels commented on these topics. He spoke about all three -- and not in positive tones -- in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Hamels took on the issues again Monday.

In fact, he raised the issue of clubhouse chemistry.

The last two seasons “definitely caused some frustrations in the whole team morale,” Hamels said.

He mentioned the firing of Manuel, the number of injuries, and the losing as leading to frustrations and morale problems.

“You have a lot of guys coming in and out and we didn’t know how to handle it,” Hamels said. “I think that was kind of the case. A lot of us had been winning, a lot of us were new, and all we knew was winning, so it was a different sort of perspective for a lot of us that we had to deal with.”

Hamels was asked whether the chemistry issues were a matter of the players not liking each other or the players not liking losing.

“It was not liking losing,” he said. “I think we all get along very well and we’ve done it for numerous years, so I think it was just the losing and not knowing how to handle losing.

“I know that definitely shows a lot about your character when you get a bunch of guys together that aren’t used to losing. Things didn’t go well. So I think that’s something where we know what we have to do in taking the right steps in the right direction.

“I think spring training is going to be a lot more about us functioning as a group together and kind of bringing that camaraderie.”

Hamels was asked whether he believed addressing chemistry would be manager Ryne Sandberg’s first order of business this spring.

“I think so,” Hamels said. “He probably has a laundry list, which I think any guy would, but I think chemistry and getting everybody to get back [together] because we’ve been far apart because we haven’t been on the field. Now that we’re all on the same field, it’s almost like a reunion. We need to almost relearn how guys function and the cliques and what guys are talking about.

“We’re showing signs of it this offseason. Guys are staying more in touch this offseason and that will help.”

The Phillies finished third from the bottom in the NL with just 610 runs (3.77 per game) in 2013. That had some impact on Hamels as poor run support contributed to his career-high 14 losses.

Hamels was quoted in Philadelphia magazine as saying the team’s hitting “sucked.” It’s difficult to argue with that assessment, but still, one has to wonder whether Hamels might have to do some smoothing over with the hitters in spring training.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think a lot of the hitters understood that was not the only quote that was misinterpreted.

“I didn’t pitch well. The relievers weren’t doing a good job. I think we made the most errors we’ve made in a long time. So it was a whole team idea. I think we all understand what our job is and how we need to focus on making it better.

“So I think [teammates] know me pretty well that when things are talked about, they know the whole picture or what was said as opposed to just one thing. I’ve seen a lot of them recently -- they all didn’t think anything about it.”

Hamels seemed to second-guess management in the magazine article when he said you have to know when to start over. That was a reference to rebuilding, a concept the Phillies have stiff-armed.

In Monday’s interview, Hamels was asked if he believed it was time for the Phillies to rebuild.

“I don’t necessarily think so because we have our guys,” he said. “It’s kind of our last leg with a lot of us, so I think it’s a matter of having guys realize that this is the last couple moments of greatness that we have.

“We need to keep it going for as long as we possibly can. There is going to be a point where it does end, but make it on our time, not on somebody else’s time. Make it harder for their decision as opposed to us letting them make that decision a no-brain sort of idea.

“I think that’s where we are. We’re starting to come together to really understand that baseball doesn’t last forever for us individually, but it lasts forever for the city of Philadelphia and it lasts forever for these fans, so we have to make it that we’re something special for these fans.”

If the Phillies are playing poorly at midseason 2014, management could look to begin a rebuilding effort. That could mean several core players will be made available in trades. Could Hamels be one of them? Anything is possible, but management identified him as a player it wanted to build around when it signed him to a $144 million contract extension in July 2012. That could mean Hamels stays as a foundation piece of future clubs.

Cliff Lee, on the other hand, could be dealt if the Phillies falter in the first half of 2014.

Hamels doesn’t want to see that happen.

That’s why a quick start is important for this club.

“I know we’re very good at finishing strong, but at the same time you don’t want to be chasing,” Hamels said. “So we do [have to play well early] because I don’t want to be playing against Cliff Lee. He’s a tremendous pitcher. And I’d hate to be playing against some of the other guys on our team.

“It’s ultimately up to us to make it happen.”

Future Phillies Report: Fast starts for Kingery, Haseley; Nick Williams is walking!

Future Phillies Report: Fast starts for Kingery, Haseley; Nick Williams is walking!

As June comes to a close and trade season ramps up, it's time to again check up on the Phillies' top prospects.

Let's start with the player Phillies fans have been talking about most lately:

2B Scott Kingery (AAA)
Kingery made an immediate impact this week after being promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley. He had a leadoff single and made two defensive gems in his Triple A debut (even making SportsCenter for his leaping grab behind second) and homered twice in his second game with the IronPigs. In Game 3, he drove in two runs with sacrifice flies.

The pair of home runs Kingery hit Tuesday gave him an even 20 on the season. In 332 plate appearances, he's hit .313/.377/.618 with 20 homers, 18 doubles, five triples, 49 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

There are legitimate reasons for Kingery's power surge — more muscle, some more loft on his swing — but it's still way too early to tell whether this power will translate to the majors. The thing is, even if it doesn't, Kingery still has a chance to be a very good player.

His best tools are his defense, speed and contact ability. It's why he was a second-round pick and it's why he was projected to hit toward the top of an order someday. 

Dustin Pedroia was the common comparison when Kingery was drafted because they're both short second basemen with skills that play bigger than their frames. Pedroia's 162-game average throughout his 12 seasons in the majors is a .301 batting average, .808 OPS, 15 homers and 15 steals. That kind of line doesn't sound unreasonable for Kingery.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Since May 1, Cozens has hit .279 with a .929 OPS, 14 homers, 36 RBIs and 56 strikeouts in 53 games.

He's significantly cut down his strikeout rate after whiffing 40 times in 90 plate appearances in April.

He's also been playing a little center field recently with Roman Quinn on the disabled list. That's an example of Cozens' athleticism — he's not some big power hitter with one tool, he can also move and play defense.

I think we'll see Cozens in the majors at some point this season for a few reasons. First, he's already on the 40-man roster. Second, he has a difference-making skill with his ability to hit a ball out of any park. Third, Howie Kendrick probably won't be around after the trade deadline and Daniel Nava might be gone as well. 

On the year, Cozens has hit .237/.314/.482 with 18 homers and 51 RBIs. He's struck out 96 times in 311 plate appearances. He still has quite a ways to go against lefties but he's been at least respectable against them this season with six homers and a .457 slugging percentage.

Cozens was one of five IronPigs named Thursday to the International League All-Star team, along with Rhys Hoskins, Tom Eshelman, Jorge Alfaro and reliever Pedro Beato.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Six walks in his last five games — what has gotten into Nick Williams?!

Phillies GM Matt Klentak recently said that Williams is shoring up a few final things before making the jump to the majors. Plate selection is unquestionably at the top of the list. Prior to walking six times this week, Williams had just 10 with 82 strikeouts in 72 games.

On the year, Williams has hit .277/.326/.511 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs. If he can replicate those numbers at the big-league level, that's enough to be a productive corner outfielder. 

Like Cozens, Williams has taken some steps forward against left-handed pitching. He doesn't start every game against a lefty, but Williams has hit .253 with a .677 OPS off southpaws in 85 plate appearances. Last year, he hit .231 off lefties with a .571 OPS.

Williams could be a candidate to replace Howie Kendrick on the 25-man roster if Kendrick needs to go back on the DL. Phillies fans would certainly feel like it's about time.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Look, we all know Crawford has a higher ceiling than Freddy Galvis. We all know he has plate selection and can run deep counts without striking out.

But Crawford hasn't done much this season to push himself closer to unseating Galvis as the Phillies' starting shortstop. Crawford is 65 games into his season and still hitting .207 with a .323 on-base percentage and two home runs. 

He's been better lately with 17 walks and 14 strikeouts in his last 23 games. Over that span, he's hit .261 with a .377 OBP in 106 plate appearances.

But he's still yet to have a multi-week hot streak.

Phillies fans, by and large, are OK with Galvis but don't love him. I'd be curious if Galvis was perceived the same way had he been a first-round pick himself. But Galvis is a legitimately valuable major-league shortstop. He plays elite, Gold Glove-caliber defense, and over the last 365 days, he's second among all National League shortstops with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Only Addison Russell has more homers and only Trea Turner has more steals.

Galvis still has deficiencies, his main one being that he doesn't walk enough. That just so happens to coincide with Crawford's strength. But lately, Galvis has done everything else better.

Galvis' final arbitration year is 2018 and then he's a free agent. Barring a second-half surge from Crawford, the top prospect might not be the starting shortstop next opening day after all.

We could also see the Phillies shop Galvis this winter. Nothing is off the table. We could see the Phils begin next season with Cesar Hernandez at second base and Galvis at shortstop, or we could see both traded and the Phils open with Kingery and Crawford as their double-play combination. 

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
Hoskins, who hit his 18th home run Wednesday night, just keeps humming along. He's hitting .304/.401/.601 with those 18 homers and 62 RBIs through 79 games. 

June was his worst month but only because April and May were so impressive. Hoskins is ready for the majors. Not much more to say on that front. On top of the high batting average and consistent power, he's walked 44 times and struck out 47 this season. For an organization that talks so frequently about controlling the strike zone while continuing to start big-leaguers who don't do it, Hoskins has stood out.

Again, it would be of little to no benefit to the Phillies to enter next season with both Hoskins and Joseph in the fold. Sure, you could start Hoskins and bring Joseph off the bench or vice versa, but it would make more sense to trade Joseph for a player at a more important, useful position. 

The issue there is that it's always difficult to gauge the trade value of a player who plays only first base. There just aren't a ton of teams clamoring for first-base help that don't have an internal option. One of those teams that could use Joseph is the one the Phillies just faced: the Mariners. 

Joseph's game-tying homer in Seattle was his 34th in 625 plate appearances the last two seasons. That's pretty much the equivalent of one full year. 

RHP Tom Eshelman (AAA)
Most of us expected the Ken Giles trade to work out more than it has so far for the Phillies. Vince Velasquez has been a volatile starting pitcher and is currently on the shelf, and patience is running thin with the erratic Mark Appel.

But beyond those two headliners of the Phillies' return in the trade with Houston, Eshelman has been on a roll at Triple A.

After going 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in five starts at Double A, the 23-year-old Eshelman is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA at Triple A after winning Wednesday. Altogether this season he's struck out 70 and walked 13 in 100 innings.

Control has always been Eshelman's strong suit — he's walked just 46 batters in 231 innings since turning pro. He needs that control because he's not going to blow hitters away with his 88 to 91 mph fastball. 

There is a bit of deception to Eshelman's delivery which should help him when he eventually arrives in The Show. He hides the ball well and almost short-arms it out of his hand. That probably adds a tick or two of deceptive velocity to the hitter.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (Class A Lakewood)
The highest-upside arm in the Phillies' system, Sanchez finally allowed a home run last Friday. Why is that notable? Because it's the only homer he's surrendered in 120 innings since turning pro as a 16-year-old. 

In eight starts this season, Sanchez has a 2.90 ERA and 0.79 WHIP with 39 strikeouts and three walks in 40⅓ innings. He's struck out 101 and walked just 17 in the minor leagues, incredibly uncommon command numbers for an 18-year-old kid who has an upper-90s fastball and good secondary stuff.

Sanchez is too young to be a part of the Phils' next wave of talent which will include the Triple A guys and maybe a player or two currently at Double A. But if he keeps progressing like this, Sanchez has a chance to be cracking the majors right when the Phillies will need him most, in 2020 or so when they're theoretically ready to contend.

OF Adam Haseley (Gulf Coast League)
Talk about a fast start. Two games into his pro career, Haseley is 5 for 9 with a double, a triple, three RBIs, two runs, a walk and a steal.

The eighth overall pick in this year's draft, Haseley could be a fast riser through the Phillies' system because of his three years playing in competitive, challenging ACC games at Virginia. 

The Phils, for now, want to separate him from last year's first-round pick, Mickey Moniak, so that both can play center field.

Phillies Mid-Atlantic scout Paul Murphy, who saw more of Haseley than just about anyone, used Nick Markakis as a loose comparison for Haseley in a recent conversation with CSN's Jim Salisbury.

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
Perhaps like Williams, Alfaro has realized he's going to need to find other ways to reach base when things aren't going well for him at the plate. 

Alfaro, who also barely walks, has reached base via the free pass eight times in his last 11 games. Prior to that he had four walks in 50 games.

Alfaro has been in a pretty lengthy slump. Even after hitting a three-run homer Wednesday off former Phillie Kyle Kendrick, his numbers over his last 35 games are underwhelming.

Since May 12, Alfaro is 27 for 137 (.197) with just three home runs. Even though he's a faster runner than Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp, Alfaro has also grounded into 11 double plays.

If Alfaro had a dominant first half he'd be forcing the Phillies' hand more. But at this point it seems to make the most sense to keep him at Triple A all season and give Rupp and Knapp their final chances to make a bid for the everyday job. It's clear Alfaro has the most talent and upside, but he's yet to reach it consistently. Yes, this is his first season at Triple A, but he'll turn 25 next June so he's no youngster.

Aside from the three-run homer, Alfaro also threw out a runner last night, the 12th would-be base-stealer he's caught in 36 attempts.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
It's been a year to forget for Thompson, who gave up five runs in five innings with the Phillies earlier this season and is 3-8 with a 6.07 ERA in 14 starts at Triple A.

Thompson's been all mixed up over the last year, changing his delivery and changing pieces of his repertoire. He's just no longer a guy who misses many bats.

Thompson had a great start on June 20 with eight shutout innings in Pawtucket but followed that by allowing five runs in six innings. It was the sixth time this season he's allowed at least five runs in a start.

At this point, Thompson is clearly behind Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin on the organizational depth chart. Eshelman might have pushed past him as well.

Safe at home: MLB umpire John Tumpane rescues woman on bridge

Safe at home: MLB umpire John Tumpane rescues woman on bridge

PITTSBURGH -- John Tumpane can't explain why he approached the woman as she hopped over the railing of the Roberto Clemente Bridge on Wednesday afternoon.

The woman told Tumpane she just wanted to get a better view of the Allegheny River below. The look on her face and the tone of her voice suggested otherwise to Tumpane, a major league baseball umpire in town to work the series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays.

So the 34-year-old Tumpane reached for the woman even as she urged him to let her go.

"It was just pure instinct," Tumpane said. "You hear kind of stories of this all the time, different scenarios, people aiding and situation where I was lucky enough to be there to help and try to think of everything I could do, hanging on to her. At times she wanted to go the other way. I was like, 'Not on my watch, please.' We were just hanging on."

And saving a life.

Tumpane secured one of her arms. A bystander walked up and grabbed the other while another -- Mike Weinman, an employee for the Rays -- clutched her legs and pinned them to the railing while Tumpane mouthed to someone in the crowd to call 911.

What followed were chaotic moments of panic, fear and ultimately, grace.

"I couldn't tell you how long we were waiting for everyone else to get in place," Tumpane said. "Obviously another power comes into be when you're hanging on and you know what the alternative is of you letting go and not having other people to help you."

Tumpane, Weinman and the third volunteer clung to the unidentified woman until emergency responders arrived. A police boat raced up the river to the iconic yellow bridge named for the Pirates Hall of Famer who died on Dec. 31, 1972, when a plane making humanitarian deliveries to earthquake victims in Nicaragua crashed. Now, 45 years later a crowd thrust together by fate brought a complete stranger back from the brink. Together.

"Once they were able to secure her, we were able to talk her back to help us out and we got her back on this side," Tumpane said. "After that I went up to her, she said, 'You'll just forget me after this,' and I said, 'No, I'll never forget you.' This was an unbelievable day and I'm glad to say she can have another day with us and I'm glad I was in the right place at the right time."

Tumpane, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, got into umpiring as a teenager, made his major-league debut in 2012 and received his full-time MLB commission in 2016, stressed he's no hero.

"I just happened to be there," he said. "I think I've been a caring person in my life. I saw somebody in need, and it looked like a situation to obviously insert myself and help out."

The aftermath was a bit surreal. After the woman was taken away, Tumpane called his wife, his arms still shaking.

"Not too many times you call your wife and say you helped save somebody's life," he said. "A really special moment."

One that stayed with him even as he prepared to call balls and strikes behind home plate Wednesday night. During breaks in the action his eyes would drift to the bridge just a few hundred feet behind the center field wall at PNC Park.

"It's also hard when you stand back behind home plate and look and you see the bridge in the distance, In between innings and whatnot, just thinking of how things could have maybe been," he said. "Glad it was this way."

Tumpane has no experience in crisis management or suicide prevention. He's spent 16 years living the nomadic life of an umpire. Asked what was going through his head while he tried to coax the woman back to safety, Tumpane just shrugged his shoulders. How do you explain the unexplainable?

"I happened to be in the right spot at the right time," he said. "Tried to be as comforting as I could and talk her through it. Thankfully that was the outcome."