Hamels uniquely suited to mentor young pitchers

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Hamels uniquely suited to mentor young pitchers

When the Phillies gave Cole Hamels a $144 million extension in the summer of 2013, they did so with the understanding that he'd not only headline their rotation through 2018 but also help bridge the gap between two eras of Phillies baseball.

In just eight seasons, Hamels has already played through three very different organizational periods.

He debuted in 2006, when the Phils were a solid, rising team that hadn't made the playoffs in 13 years.

He was World Series MVP in 2008 and made 96 starts from 2009-11 for teams that spent a ton of money and traded away numerous prospects to supplement the core with top-tier talent. The results were another World Series appearance, a trip to the NLCS and a franchise-record 102 wins.

As age and injuries caused a rapid team decline in 2012 and 2013, Hamels remained one of the top pitchers in baseball, even as the losses mounted and changes swept the clubhouse.

And so Hamels, at 30, is already making the transition from student to mentor.

"No matter how old you feel or you think you are, some guy's gonna be younger than you all the time," Hamels told CSN's Jim Salisbury in an exclusive interview Monday.

"... I think that's going to be exciting to be able to talk to some of these guys because we've got some tremendous pitching prospects with [Jonathan] Pettibone, and even Ethan Martin, and I know [Adam] Morgan, and having [Jesse] Biddle."

That's a group of four unfinished products. Hamels was just as raw once upon a time, but never stopped developing, thanks in large part to Jamie Moyer and Roy Halladay, two pitchers who came to the Phillies at the tail-end of extremely successful careers.

Hamels, during his notoriously difficult 2009 season, not only battled opposing hitters but also his own brain. He made things more difficult on himself. He struggled to compartmentalize and focus on the smaller picture within games. His body language was bad. He wore his frustrations on his sleeve.

Hamels is much different now. He's a grown man on the mound in complete control of his emotions whether he's suffering from bad luck, low run support or his own poor command.

"I think a lot of the mental side that I was learning from Jamie, I don't know if I was really applying it all right away, and last year I really applied it more," said Hamels, who lost a career-high 14 games last season but ranked eighth in the NL in WAR.

"So just kind of knowing that I'm able to keep notebooks, and keep my thoughts down so that I can go over them, and never go back down to that other side that you never want to experience. It always keeps you at an even keel.

"You have to center your focus a little bit more. I know the big picture is to pitch nine innings and win a game, but overall, you have to kind of create little mini-games inside the game of baseball, and I think a lot of times that's what I was starting to learn how to do, which I wasn't necessarily able to do early on. It just kind of happened and I went with the flow and obviously had some pretty successful years, but when you're tested at a very tough spot, you have to narrow your focus even more."

Mentally, Hamels had Moyer to rely on. Physically, he looked up to Halladay, the ultimate role model in terms of preparation.

"[Halladay] showing up first, before anybody, and he's older than every single one of the guys in spring training, he always got there first, he always finished first. He didn't let anybody beat him," Hamels said of the future Hall of Famer, who retired in December.

"I think that's ultimately what, if you want to be the best in this game and you want to stay around for as long as he did, you can't let anybody beat you. I think that's kind of the thought I'm going to keep in my head and that's going to keep me pushing a little bit more."

Barring an unforeseen trade, Hamels will likely head a staff that eventually includes Biddle, the Phillies' 2010 first-round lefty who's already experienced highs and lows in his minor-league career. Just two weeks ago, Biddle stood in the same clubhouse as Hamels and discussed his own mental growth process (see story). Biddle admitted that he let too many things consume his mind on the mound in 2013 and, though he dominated his opponents in April, pitched some of the worst games of his life over the summer.

"I think having those types of young guys that have the potential to be [number] one, two, three, four guys in the rotation, they're obviously the future and it's something where you want them to be better or have more knowledge than when they came in," Hamels said.

"And if I can be a part of that, then obviously I've done something right."

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

BOX SCORE

A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."