Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

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Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

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As far as anyone can tell, there is nothing physically wrong with Cole Hamels. He isn’t injured and his mechanics are just fine. Manager Charlie Manuel said Hamels’ repertoire of pitches still have the same zip on them like always.

Stuff-wise, Hamels still has it.

It’s just that he doesn’t always know where it’s going.

Hamels needed 106 pitches to get through five innings of the Phillies’ 10-4 loss to the hard-hitting Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon. The loss snapped the Phillies’ season-best three-game winning streak and sent Hamels to 1-6 with a 4.61 ERA in nine starts (see Instant Replay).

Sure, the Phillies have scored just 17 runs in the 56 2/3 innings Hamels has been on the mound this season. But if the Phillies were going to give Hamels the run support he needed on Wednesday, they would have had to score a season-high in runs.

And obviously Wednesday wasn’t the Phillies’ best game of the year.

In the meantime, Manuel and Hamels are left to ponder why the pitcher has had such a difficult time this year. Compounded with Roy Halladay’s injury that will sideline him for the majority of the season, the Phillies are having trouble in the one area where they were set up the best.

Now, the Opening Day starter is having trouble throwing strikes.

“If you look, the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t think there’s nothing with his arm or nothing, because his velocity is good, he’s using his pitches,” Manuel said. “Right now, the last few games, he’s having trouble locating his pitches, commanding his pitches, commanding the strike zone.”

Hamels allowed five runs on six hits, a pair of walks and a hit batsman on Wednesday. Of those six hits, five of them went for extra-bases, including two homers. Against the first 12 hitters he faced, Hamels was strapped with seven three-ball counts. Though the Phillies’ offense answered with three runs to make it a 5-3 game when Hamels departed, the bullpen couldn’t keep it close.

Still, Hamels agrees with Manuel that his problems this season are related to his inability to throw strikes consistently. His 24 walks lead the National League and the nine homers he has allowed are tied with Halladay for the third-most in the league.

Headed into Wednesday’s game, Hamels’ strike percentage was the lowest and his home-run rate is the highest it’s ever been.

Hitters are being patient against Hamels and he hasn’t been able to make them pay.

“I’m constantly making adjustments. I feel healthy, I feel strong. I’m able to throw all four pitches for strikes at times, but I’m not able to do it nine out of 10 times,” Hamels said. “Especially when you’re not able to do it right off the bat to get ahead of the hitter, you’re not putting them in an uncomfortable at-bat and then you have to nibble away and that’s not what you want to do.

“That’s especially true with certain teams and hitters like Cleveland. They’re very patient hitters. Shoot, they’ve been hot for six weeks, so I just have to keep tinkering until it finally locks in and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing and confident in what I’m doing … and I’m able to go out there and get the results.”

For now, the results haven’t been good. The Phillies are just 1-8 in games started by Hamels, compared to 21-10 in his outings last year. Combined with Halladay, the Phillies are 3-13 when the first two starters of the rotation take the mound.

Don’t cast all the blame on Hamels (or Halladay), though. In the last six games leading into Wednesday’s start, Hamels had allowed just 11 runs and the Phillies were still 1-5 over that span.

“It’s not all on Cole. I mean, he’s gone out and thrown some great games,” said Ryan Howard, who went 0 for 4 with a strikeout in the loss to the Indians. “Today was one of those games that it just wasn’t in his favor today. But we’ve had times where the offense, we haven’t been able to pick him up. You can’t put it all on him.”

The Phillies look to bounce back on Friday when they open a three-game series against the hard-hitting Cincinnati Reds. Here’s how the pitching lines up for the series:

Friday -- Cliff Lee (4-2, 2.86) vs. Tony Cingrani (2-0, 2.89)

Saturday -- Kyle Kendrick (4-1, 2.47) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 3.76)

Sunday -- Jonathan Pettibone (3-0, 3.41) vs. Homer Bailey (2-3, 3.51).

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”