Hamels aims for dominance of last fall
After early struggles, lefty peaking as postseason nears
MILWAUKEE -- Last October, left-hander Cole Hamels looked invincible, which is a great thing to be in the postseason.
But Hamels (10-9, 4.11 ERA) has learned in his short career that the feeling of invincibility can be fleeting. He has been knocked around this season, and thus he seemed to relate to what happened to Brad Lidge late Wednesday night at Land Shark Stadium, where the closer blew his Major League-leading 11th save of the season.
Hamels, who went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts last postseason, was 7-8 with a 4.78 ERA after 24 starts this season. The Phillies were just 12-12 in those starts, and his ERA was fifth-highest in the National League through Aug. 21.
His postseason magic hadn't guaranteed him success in 2009.
"When you do struggle and you're trying to come back, in those struggles you seem to put yourself away from being invincible," Hamels said following Wednesday's 7-6 loss to the Marlins. "When you're invincible, teams don't want to face you. Also when you come back to the norm, teams feel they can hit you. They have that confidence, and when a team has confidence in anybody going out to the mound, they're going to put hits together no matter what.
"These guys are big league hitters. That's the thing. You basically have to put the fear in them and make them uncomfortable, because that's how you get the guys out. Once they start getting that confidence, it's not to your advantage. You really have to focus and bear down and execute pitch after pitch after pitch. You [have to] bring it back to where you are the ultimate guy, and they're not hoping to face you anymore."
But Hamels, who was slow to round into form because of an elbow injury that forced him to miss a portion of Spring Training, had time to turn around his season. And he has, going 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA in his past six starts.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lidge has only 11 games left in which to fix his problems.
But while the Phillies hope that Lidge will find his own feeling of invincibility, they seem to have Hamels back to form. Everybody remembers how dominant Hamels was last fall, when he earned both National League Championship Series and World Series Most Valuable Player honors.
They will need him to be equally as dominant this postseason, especially if the Phillies' bullpen continues to struggle.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.