What Became of Cole Hamels, the Phils’ One 'Sure Thing' Entering 2013?

What Became of Cole Hamels, the Phils’ One 'Sure Thing' Entering 2013?

Of all the reasons Negadelphia could have thought up before the season began to explain why the Phillies would be under .500 five days into the month of June, somewhere near the bottom is Cole Hamels. If his name was there at all, it no doubt would have appeared next to the word “injury” or some variation of it.

Hamels is not hurt (that we know of). His contract situation was settled almost a year ago. At 29, Cole’s best baseball should still be ahead of him. Yet despite the seeming lack of obvious physical ailments and mental distractions, he is very much a part of the problem so far.

In fact, Hamels is tied with Joe Blanton for the most losses among all pitchers in Major League Baseball with nine entering Wednesday – already as many as he recorded in all in 2011, and more than in 2012. Equally as troubling are the club’s losses in his no decisions, bringing the Phillies to 1-11 in their ace’s starts this season.

And while we can all agree wins and losses aren’t always very good indicators of a pitcher’s performance – see Cliff Lee last year – this is well beyond that. Hamels’ 4.86 earned run average is 42nd out of 54 qualifying starters in the National League, which pairs well with ranking in the bottom 12 in hits, runs, home runs, and walks surrendered.

The difficult truth is those numbers don’t quite tell the whole story either. Hamels has given up fewer than three runs in half of his 12 outings, and no more than that in two others, so it’s safe to say the Fightins ought to have pulled a few more of those contests out.

Lack of run support notwithstanding, Cole hasn’t exactly been sharp. He was absolutely rocked in four of his outings, and even the "quality starts" are not what we’ve come to expect. Coming into Wednesday’s duel with the Marlins, Hamels hasn’t gone deeper than 6.1 innings since May 4, and only three times on the year at that.

It’s no secret his command has been the chief concern since Opening Day. He’s walked four or more batters three times already, which is completely uncharacteristic for Hamels at the big league level. Look at his 2013 WHIP of 1.338 and 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and compare it to his career numbers of 1.148 and 3.72. Both of them are way off of his normal pace.

Unfortunately we don’t really have any highly specific answers as to why. The best you can hope for is it’s a mechanical thing the pitcher can correct sooner rather than later. Maybe Domonic Brown and a bunch of other guys suddenly slugging the ball out of the yard on his day to throw would help Cole regain some confidence as well.

Frankly, in some other situation we could simply chalk it up to a bad stretch or even a tough season for Hamels.

The problem with that is if he was doing what was anticipated – that arguably being a contender for the Cy Young – the Phillies would be right in the thick of the playoff race right now, if not holding down a berth. Philadelphia is 7.5 games back of Atlanta for first place in the NL East, instead of the few back that might be with a few more wins from their No. 1. They’re only six out of a Wild Card spot, which was easily doable with more run support…

Or a few more performances where Hamels either went longer or was the shutdown ace his contract demands he be.

The frustrating part is Hamels will most likely come around barring injury because there’s too much talent. And again, where the Phillies are in the standings is far from all his fault – he’s deserved to win far more often than he has.

Just imagine though if he had been pitching like the Cole Hamels of the last two years this entire time instead. Now couple that thought with how Domonic Brown has suddenly ignited and is carrying the Phils’ offense, not to mention the fact that the Braves and Nationals have left the division wide open for the taking.

The Phillies should be right there. Forget Ryan Howard’s waning power, Chase Utley’s injury, Carlos Ruiz’s absences, the slow starts of Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins, and the all-too-often-missing right-hand bats of Michael and Delmon Young. To a certain extent, all of that had been accounted for.

Hamels was supposed to help combat those flaws. Without his quick turnaround, they will prove as fatal as predicted.

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench. 

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.” 

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Gotta love Bryz, right?

Former Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was his usual humorous, unpredictable self in a recent interview with Sportsnet.ca's Luke Fox.

From what he's doing now to talking pressure as a goalie, here are some of the highlights ...

On a goalie's mental state when job security is up in the air (referenced to Flyers goalie Steve Mason)
“So many goalies take the job for a long time, so it’s easy to be out of game. You worry. You want to find a long-term job, pay bills. It’s not a secret. That’s why when there’s no [contractual] certainty and you don’t see 100 percent confidence from your team, it might affect your game. If the season’s not going well, you start thinking about it.”

On his son playing goalie
"He chose it. He’s the guy who gives his team a chance to win. Make some saves. But he plays as a player once a week, too. Shoots the puck on goalies every Wednesday pretty much.”

On being a hockey dad
“I’m pretty calm. I only get upset when I see the referees make the bad calls. The kids work so hard and play so passionately, you can’t take sides. Only when the referee’s unfair.”

On being a pro hockey player in Las Vegas
"I’m family guy, settled down. I’ve never been too emotional or casino-addicted. For me, no problem. For the young guys to play there, it causes trouble, man. Difficult trouble. … The young ones with the cash? Las Vegas can provide lots of scenes, know what I mean?"

The rest is just as good. For the full Q&A, read Fox's article right here.

Also, Bryzgalov will be a part of Sportsnet's trade deadline coverage next Wednesday.

And side note: Bryz remains active on Twitter. And remains random as ever.

Just look at his last tweet ...