Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

colehamelsuspw.jpg

Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

BOX SCORE

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).

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."