Hamels up for challenge in Game 1
Phils ace lefty prepares for biggest start of young career
PHILADELPHIA -- The poise, talent and pitch quality have been apparent since the Phillies first saw Cole Hamels as a pitcher at Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High School some five years ago.The ascent to Phillies staff ace has been swift for Hamels, occurring in only his second big league season. A 15-5 record with a 3.39 ERA and his ability to dominate made him the obvious choice to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Rockies on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. The kid is ready. "If he pitches like [he did on Sept. 28, a 13-strikeout performance against Washington], there's not going to be anybody who can hit him," said former Phillies ace turned closer Brett Myers. "He can easily dominate." Hamels was 9 years old for Philadelphia's previous postseason appearance in 1993. Also that year, the Rockies celebrated their inaugural season in Major League Baseball, and this is the organization's second trip to the playoffs. Hamels, now 23, is ready for the most meaningful start of his career. He'll oppose Colorado's ace, lefty Jeff Francis, who has surrendered 14 runs in 8 1/3 innings to the Phillies this season. "For them to have the confidence in me to set me up for the first game is unbelievable," Hamels said. "It's everybody's dream to play Major League Baseball. After that, you set new goals, and this was a big-time goal for me. I've finally achieved it." The young lefty has never faced the Rockies, but he has already shown the ability to dominate any team, even one with a potent an offense as Colorado, which includes NL MVP candidate Matt Holliday. "They have a very tough team with their offense," Hamels said.
After missing more than a month with a mild left elbow strain, Hamels has posted a 2.25 ERA in the three starts since his return, and his pitch count restrictions were removed before his previous outing -- and he struck out 13 Nationals. For Game 1, he'll be unleashed to his full capacity."I had that bump in the road awhile back, but my main focus was to come back and be ready for the playoffs," Hamels said. "I'll be ready to go." And there's no doubt he's ready for the challenge. "He's proven he can perform on a big stage," said Phillies reliever Tom Gordon. "That's as big as it gets."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.