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).