Cole Hamels Q&A with Leslie Gudel, Part I

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Cole Hamels Q&A with Leslie Gudel, Part I

A lot has changed since Cole Hamels signed his six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Phillies on July 27, 2012.

He has a larger role in the clubhouse. He’s anchoring a pitching staff with Cliff Lee that has battled injuries to Roy Halladay, which has forced the former Cy Young winner to reinvent his style, Jonathan Pettibone and John Lannan.

The Phillies have a new (interim) manager in Ryne Sandberg after firing Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16. And Ruben Amaro Jr. has committed to a rebuild.

Not exactly how Hamels drew things up when he re-signed with the Phils.

Hamels recently sat down with Comcast SportsNet's Leslie Gudel to discuss his decision to re-sign with the Phillies, his new role with the team and Sandberg among other topics.

Here's Part I of the interview. Check back on Sunday for Part II:

Q. Describe this year

A. Humbling. I think just kind of in a sense of really trying to discover who you are, what type of teammate you want to become. Sort of a time where changes are obviously being made. It’s something where what place, you know, where do you want to be and where do you see yourself being a part of the team?

Q. Are you struggling with that role change?

A. I think it is. It’s something you have to discover if you’re capable of doing it. Being able to transfer it off so that others can believe it. Because if you do some sort of scenario or event that others partake in or notice, they just don’t think it’s something fake.

They have to buy into it. You really do have to believe in it and make them believe it and believe in you. Kind of knowing where your role is and fulfill your role of being a good teammate.

Q. As you've grown, have you taken a more active role as a good teammate?

A. Yeah, I think you have to know your place on the team, especially since I've come up, I've always been the young guy. First and foremost, I've wanted to have success on the field as a selfish quality that all of us have. But at the same time, you realize that the game is bigger than just one person and it takes a team to win a championship and it takes a whole team to get through a whole year.

And if you're going to be able to do it, you understand that people are watching and they are coming to watch everybody -- not just one person. That's something we want to attract and make more grand. That makes more people come in general.

Q. Since players have left, are you responsible for bringing the team back together?

A. Yeah, of course, because if you're not responsible, you're not being a good teammate. I think everyone has to buy into it. Along with everyone has to go out and give it best effort they can because they describe the game of baseball as being a long season, which really, when you look at it, it's pretty short. And it's a pretty short time you get to play the game, and you never want to look back and say 'Man, I wish I had one more game' because that's what people always talk about, no matter what the sport, they wish they could compete one more time.

They have to buy into the aspect that we have to compete every single day. Even if it's in batting practice, even if it's ing spring training getting ready for the season. You can't let one game go. Even when you're out of it, you're never really out of it. And that's the part that I think Ryno is trying to portray, and a lot of us -- especially the older guys -- because it is going to be over for a lot of us sooner than we think.

This is the best city to play baseball in, especially when you been able to experience what I have been able to experience. Obviously, a bunch of my teammates have been able to experience it. To come from nothing, building up a team, riding it out, winning the World Series, then going back again, then to not be able to do it again, you start to realize that was the most fun we've ever had. Let's get back to that.

Q. What did you learn the most from Manuel?

A. You have to have leadership. To keep the young guys, and even the old guys, in check because we are humans, and we do need to be kept in check. Keep the good with the bad. You have to know how to roll through it, how to progress to become better. You really do have to fight to the very end. That's kind of what we all had because we never experienced what it was like to win, we kept fighting and fighting and fighting to get to it.

And then, all of a sudden, you taste it and then you want to keep it. So I think, because things change over, any team goes through it, you have to rediscover who you are. The values of what you have, and what type of team you want to bring to the field every day.

Q. Are you a vocal leader?

A. There might be a balance, but truly, every team has to have a vocal leader and then everybody has to have a leader on the field. Because I don't play every day, I don't think I can be that guy out on the field, using that as my strength. I think because I'm in the dugout every day, because I'm in the outfield every day, doing the work with everyone that might play that day, that's more so a position I should be in.

Q. Do you regret your decision to come back here?

A. No, this is where I have become part of this team and part of the family that the ownership, you know David (Montgomery), they've welcomed me in with open arms. It's been the best experience ever, so you don't want to leave something that's that great. It's a tremendous organization to be a part of. When you get to see fans that are supporting you every day out on the streets, wearing jerseys, that's why you want to play the game.

They're the ones that want to see you play it, and you're the one that wants to put on the best show for them. It's having that sort of pride that you get to be a part of something special, and this is the city to be a a part of something special. I've grown very, I guess, comfortable knowing that this is the best thing that if you want to be a competitive athlete and you want to win, this is the best place to be.

Q. What gives you the most optimism for being a Phillie?

A. There's a lot of guys coming in just because of the fact of the rollover. That's always going to happen. When guys get older, you have to bring guys in to compete. You know, you have to try to win every year. You don't just try to settle, and that's why I like the organization. They don't try to settle.

They try to win every year, so it's nice to see some of the guys they've drafted and see what they bring to the table, and what they can offer to myself and what I can offer to them to be quality major leaguers that can help us win a World Series. And I think that's kind of fun, to see the new players coming up and seeing the excitement that they have and to build relationships on that. And it does, it rekindles that fire of what you felt when you were brought up. It brings back the good memories.

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

The end of an era has arrived for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard burst on the scene like a comet ablaze and powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season in 2005. A year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history when he clubbed a team-record 58 homers and added 149 RBIs in winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat — or Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel so aptly dubbed him — in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011 when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.

From his seat at Citizens Bank Park, John Middleton watched Howard go down that night and he knew.

Middleton had joined the Phillies ownership group in 1994 and seen his stake in the team rise to nearly 48 percent as the club was rising to the level of baseball elite. He felt elation on the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, disappointment on the night they lost the World Series in 2009 and frustration when the team suffered postseason failures in 2010 and 2011.

Howard’s crumbling to the ground on that October night in 2011 came to symbolize the end of the Phillies’ great run. A mighty man had been felled by injury. A mighty team had been brought down.

“They all gnaw at me,” Middleton said of the postseason failures that followed 2008 in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia. “The opportunity to do something extraordinarily special is rare. And when it presents itself, you need to be able to take advantage of it as much as you possibly can.

“That said, I think '11 was the hardest for me.”

The Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.

Middleton, still in ass-kickin’ physical condition at 61, was a wrestler in college. He’d seen injuries. He’d had injuries. As soon as he saw Howard go down, he knew it was an Achilles injury and he knew it was bad. Deep down inside, he just knew that great Phillies team would never be the same, that the run was over.

“When Ryan went down with the Achilles injury at the end of that game, I knew he was going to be out for 2012 and you didn't really know when he was going to be back and how well he would come back,” Middleton said.

Howard’s injury coincided with injuries to Chase Utley and Roy Halladay.

“That was just too many people to lose,” Middleton said.

Middleton has stepped out of the background and taken a more up-front role with the club over the past two years. He was a leader in making the decision to move away from past glory and commit to a full rebuild two years ago, and he remains committed to it today.

The reconstruction of the Phillies has coincided with the deconstruction of the club that won all those games and titles from 2007-2011. Hamels, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Werth, Halladay, Lee and others are gone. All that remains is Howard and his time in red pinstripes will come to an end after this final weekend series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

While the failure to do something “extraordinarily special” — i.e., win multiple World Series — still gnaws at Middleton, he will remember the good times that Howard provided.

There were lots of them.

“This wasn't just a guy who was good or very good, this was an elite player,” Middleton said.

Howard has not been an elite player since the Achilles injury. There were times in recent seasons when his union with the club became uncomfortable. He was mentioned in trade rumors, but the fact is there wasn’t much interest in him from other teams. He went from being a full-time player and a star to being a part-time player.

Middleton appreciates the way Howard handled things as his role diminished.

“I think he’s a wonderful human being,” Middleton said. “He's been a terrific player and an even better person. I really will miss him when he's gone.

“Ryan made it easy because he was the consummate teammate. And not only for the other 24, 25 guys on the roster, but for his coaches, for the front office, for the owners. This guy has just been fabulous about it.”

In April 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain some cost certainty. Critics said the Phillies acted too early and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.

Middleton was not the architect of that extension. Former club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were at the helm then. Both have stood by the decision and pointed to Howard’s productivity — he averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs from 2006 to through 2011 — as a reason the deal made sense. Both have acknowledged that injuries can change everything in a blink of an eye and, in this case, one did.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Middleton said. “Had you asked a question and had a crystal ball and knew Ryan was going to have an Achilles injury in October of ‘11 and that would probably limit his effectiveness going forward … that's one question.”

Middleton rattled off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …

“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there's been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan's contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. And in large part, it didn't work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”

Howard was still healthy in 2009. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.

The performance crushed Howard.

After the Phillies lost Game 6 in Yankee Stadium, Middleton stood outside the clubhouse and wondered if he should go in and comfort the disappointed players.

He finally did and a story that will forever link him and Ryan Howard was born.

Yes, the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story is true.

“Completely true,” Middleton said with a laugh.

“We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it's just crushing. It really is. I don't know any other word for it.

“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there's tons of media around, and I'm trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I'm trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I'm trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.

“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.

“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’"

The Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back.

Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.

But he was a big reason they got one in the first place and in a town that loves winners, well, that should not be forgotten as he heads out the door.

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Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

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