Friday, July 04, 2008

You Say J.A. And I Say A.J.

Isn't it nice when a player lives up to expectations? Cole Hamels has done that and then some. He's clearly the staff ace, a sure thing to produce a quality start (in the old sense of the term) nearly every time out.

Last night he came within an out of throwing his league-leading third shutout of the season, settling for a 4-1 win as Flash Gordon finished up for the save. With the victory the Phillies scored their second consecutive sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. I doubt many teams have ever done that to the Braves on their home field.

As Tom McCarthy noted during the telecast, Hamels was talking to himself quite a bit last night, on the mound and even at the plate. The young lefty expects much of himself and doesn't mind berating himself in public. A poor pitch or swing is often the occasion for a little self-criticism and show of disgust. Fortunately, there are few poor pitches to complain about but, then, Hamels is such a perfectionist he thinks every pitch should land precisely where he intended every time. Hamels also entered the game batting .300. He clearly expects to drive the ball every time he steps into the batter's box. Somewhere, perhaps, Rick Ankiel is smiling.

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Speaking of the telecast, I have become quite impressed by Chris Wheeler's commentary. Yes, he does use the term "middle in" more than I'd like, but his feel for the game and its situations and his knowledge of the players and obvious fondness for them make him very enjoyable to listen to. He's also become a very good cover guy for Harry's occasional miscues, correcting a count or a substitution deftly and gently. Wheeler has been the brunt of much criticism in the blogosphere but I don't subscribe to it.

On the other hand, McCarthy is generally hard to take but not in the offensive automaton way that, say, a Joe Buck is. He's a master of the obvious a little too often for my tastes and something of a Pollyanna. Normally, he is paired with Garry Matthews, who is very hard to take. If they made a mute button that could effectively eliminate part of a broadcast, I'd take out Sarge every time.

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J.A. Happ has been recalled from AAA to take Brett Myers spot in the rotation and he isn't going to get much time to ease into things. Tonight he makes his second major league start against no other than Johann Santana and the Mets. All the talk of just going out there and remembering he's pitching aginst the lineup not Santana and that it's just another game may make for good psychology if perchance Happ is reading the newspapers, but we shouldn't be surprised if the tall lefthander is very nervous at the start.

By the way, Happ should consider legally changing his name to A.J. Happ; that rolls off the tongue a whole lot easier than J.A..

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