Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Learning To Pitch

Cole Hamels is probably going to be a solid starting pitcher once he learns how to pitch.  Unfortunately, his entire graduate education is coming on the job where the first class, midterm and finals can all take place in a span of five innings or less.

Hamels started last night’s game against Atlanta in impressive, Phi Beta Kappa fashion, striking out the first four batters he faced. After getting Matt Diaz to ground out, however, the roof began showing some cracks in the second inning as Hamels served up back-to-back home runs to Adam LaRoche, who hits his fair share of dingers, and ex-Phillie Todd Pratt, who does not.  Hamels then struck out the side in the third and fourth innings and retired two of the three batters he faced in the fifth on strikes.  Twelve strikeouts in five innings, but the Phillies trailed 2-1.

The third time around for the Braves proved to be the charm as Atlanta scored five runs off of Hamels in the sixth and sent him to the showers and, with any luck, back to the books for the evening.

Hamels has three major league pitches, a good fastball and curve and a changeup every announcer, color analyst and opposing manager is in love with.  So, what’s the problem?   Thus far the rookie southpaw has had difficulty with his command, walking 27 batters in 55.2 innings, but last night the bigger problem was location.  Nearly every time he tried to throw his fastball by someone right down Broadway, they turned it around in a hurry.  Along with his 5.98 ERA he now has surrendered ten home runs in those 55.2 innings.

It’s hard to argue with twelve K’s in slightly more than half a game, but the bottom line counts, too, and Hamels is simply not getting that job done.   In nearly every one of his starts Hamels has put himself and his mates in an early hole, usually by serving up a long ball.  Could he benefit from a catcher who knows how to call a game?  Hard to say. He has thrown to three if not four different catchers already.  Of course, Mike Lieberthal, Sal Fasano, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz are a foursome unlikely to make anyone forget Yogi Berra or Johnny Bench.  Could he have benefited from more time at AAA?  He was blowing everyone away at that level before being summoned by a desperate parent club.

After the game, Hamels told reporters, "It's kind of frustrating. When you go out and don't win, it's basically just another frustrating start. It's kind of like, 'When is the luck going to turn?'”

It isn’t a matter of luck, Cole.  Making good pitches has always been the key to success.


J. Weitzel said...

All Hamels needs is time, and that has to come at this level. He cannot learn what he needs to blowing away retreads in Scranton. Pitching from the stretch, becoming more agressive in the strikezone ... that experience must come here. Actually, that's probably the most important development to monitor the rest of the season.

The clock is ticking ... let's start returning some phone calls, Mr. Gillick.

JB said...

I agree give him time. The talent is undeniably there. He just makes mistakes. The 3-1 fastball kills him, his location gets off at times. That will all come around eventually. Frankly, I'm glad he's up to take his lumps this year rather than next.

RickSchuBlues said...

Tom, you make a good point about Hamels' post-game comments. What happened to him in the sixth inning had nothing at all to do with luck and he needs to be made aware of that. He has had success dominating lower-level hitters on stuff alone, and as a result seems not to have a clear idea about location. My argument, already well-documented elsewhere, is that a better catcher could help accelerate that learning process.

I still can't forget watching an ESPN telecast late last season in which Ryan Howard ill-advisedly cut a ball off that would have otherwise resulted in a close play at the plate. After the inning had ended, the microphones picked up a conversation between Howard and Lieberthal in which the former asked if he had done the right thing in that situation. Lieberthal replied that he hadn't. Had he not been asked, Howard surely would not have been told. It's the veteran's duty to come forth with that kind of information, not the rookie's burden to even have the wherewithal to ask on something like that. Lieberthal has the leadership skills of a zombie, and for a catcher, that's quite a failing. A pity that people like Hamels have to undergo their initial major-league tutelage with such a passive non-entity sitting behind the plate.