And with another week comes another disappointing Cole Hamels start. His effort Friday night was mediocre at best, allowing 4 runs on 8 hits in a loss to the Blue Jays. But the most disheartening aspect of Friday’s outing was his inability to take the team deep into the game. A string of foul balls and just-outside pitches forced his pitch count over 100 before Charlie Manuel took him out of the game in the fifth inning.
This has been a recurring theme for Hamels (4-4, 4.44 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) this season, who has nibbled around the strike zone far too often, seemingly eager to induce swing-and-miss strikeouts rather than simply get batters out. He consistently spots his fastball inches off the plate, begging hitters to take a hack at a pitch they cannot reach. And in return, they sit and watch as his pitch count rises. While his fastball desperately tries to paint the black, Hamels’ grade-A changeup becomes an afterthought. If batters don’t need to worry about his fastball, the changeup loses effect, instead becoming a tantalizing, but resistible, pitch.
The Phillies defense is the best in the NL with a .990 fielding percentage, so Hamels shouldn’t be so afraid to ask for help with a few groundballs. For Hamels to last deeper into ballgames he must begin to attack the strike zone with his fastball, getting ahead early in counts and inducing easy outs. J.A. Happ did this to perfection today against the same Blue Jays team, earning himself quick innings by going after hitters early. After 14 starts Hamels has gone 7 innings or more just three times. Whether due to injury or inability, he has gone 5 innings or less five times now.
Until Hamels is able to re-think his pitching strategy, he will continue to labor through long innings, and as the summer heat rolls in his starts will be cut shorter and shorter.
He has not been the ace of a staff. In a segment on ESPN discussing the aces who pitched Friday night, Hamels wasn’t even mentioned. And truthfully, he did not deserve to be. He has not been the World Series MVP who mowed through batters last postseason like they still belonged in rookie ball. If he doesn’t correct himself soon, he won’t have a chance to win his second MVP anytime soon.