The Last Thing We Need Is For Cole Hamels To Blow Up

May 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels (35) sits in the dugout as the Phillies bat during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Something has been weird about Cole Hamels all year long. And Wednesday’s performance against the Cleveland Indians only perpetuated that weirdness.

Hamels struggled with his command from the first pitch all the way to pitch #106 in the Phils’ 10-4 loss to the Indians, lasting just five innings while giving up five earned runs on six hits, two walks, and a hit batsman, including two home runs and three doubles. Seven of the first 12 batters he faced ran three-ball counts against him.

It was ugly from the get-go.

Charlie Manuel, Rich Dubee and Cole himself all swear he is not injured. All say his location issues, the increase in his walk rate, the decrease in his strikeout rate, and the rest of his seeming mechanical issues are not the result of some pain for which the left-hander is compensating.

Yeah, I know. That song sounds a lot like that old Roy Halladay chestnut, doesn’t it?

“I’m constantly making adjustments. I feel healthy, I feel strong. I’m able to throw all four pitches for strikes at times, but I’m not able to do it nine out of 10 times,” Hamels said. “Especially when you’re not able to do it right off the bat to get ahead of the hitter, you’re not putting them in an uncomfortable at-bat and then you have to nibble away and that’s not what you want to do.

“That’s especially true with certain teams and hitters like Cleveland. They’re very patient hitters. Shoot, they’ve been hot for six weeks, so I just have to keep tinkering until it finally locks in and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing and confident in what I’m doing … and I’m able to go out there and get the results.” – quote per CSN Philly’s John Finger

“If you look, the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t think there’s nothing with his arm or nothing, because his velocity is good, he’s using his pitches,” Manuel said. “Right now, the last few games, he’s having trouble locating his pitches, commanding his pitches, commanding the strike zone.”

Manuel’s point is valid. And according to Fangraphs, Hamels’ stuff is the same as it’s always been.

Hamels’ velocity on his fastball last year was 90.9 mph. This year, he’s averaging 91.3. Last year, the velocity on his cutter was 88.1 mph, this year it’s 87.9, which is almost exactly the same. The curveball velocity last year was 75.7, this year it’s 75.4. And the change-up last year was 83.9 mph, this year it’s 83.3.

In other words, virtually no change.

So, what gives? Why has his walk rate jumped from 6.0% to a career worst 10.1%? Why has his strikeout rate dropped from 24.9% to a career-worst 19.8%? Why is his home run rate the highest it’s ever been?

Clearly, no one wants to panic yet and, as the Philadelphia Daily News’ David Murphy noted today, Hamels has gone through stretches like this before and things have turned out just fine. And really, despite the control issues and increase in walks, Hamels had pitched well his last six games, giving up no more than three earned runs in any of those starts while pitching at least six innings in each outing.

And yet, Wednesday’s start against Cleveland was disconcerting to say the least. The Phillies cannot continue to lose games started by Cole Hamels the way they have so far in 2013. They are 1-8 in his nine starts, and that can’t continue if this is going to be a team that wants to reach October.

Of course, Hamels’ troubles this year have not been all of his own doing. The offense has hung him out to dry on numerous occasions.

But something is going on with Hamels. Maybe he’s just fouled up and there really is nothing physically wrong with him. Maybe it’ll just click in his next start, and we’ll see the Hamels we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

Hopefully, Hamels can figure out what the issues are with his location and why he hasn’t been as sharp this year as in recent years.

And hopefully, it’s not because his left arm is about to explode.

Topics: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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