Hamels brings maturity, perspective into season
Now a No. 4 starter, lefty focused on task at hand year-round
PHILADELPHIA -- In any other year, on any other team, Cole Hamels would be preparing to make his second start of the season, not his first.
But this year and this rotation are different.
Hamels is the fourth starter on potentially one of the greatest rotations in baseball history. If Hamels had an ego, he might mind this. He earned World Series MVP and National League Championship Series MVP honors leading the Phillies to their second World Series championship in 2008. But he looks at the pitchers in front of him -- Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt -- and fourth is fine.
"I grew up to love the game and play the game," said Hamels, who makes his season debut Tuesday night against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. "I never wanted to be the hot shot-hot shot. If you evolved into it, OK. But I never tried to act like it. Yeah, you might be the hot shot or the big guy or the No. 1, but you still have a job to do. That's where I take this. I still have a job to do. If my job is No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I want to go out there and do the best I can. It doesn't matter."
Hamels is a trendy pick to win the NL Cy Young Award. He went 12-11 with a 3.06 ERA in 33 starts last season, but he could have pushed 20 wins if he had better run support. He received just 3.49 runs of support per game last season, which ranked 85th out of 92 qualifying pitchers in the big leagues.
The Phillies scored no runs for Hamels while he was on the mound in 11 games. He went 0-9 with a 3.68 ERA in those games.
Think he couldn't have won roughly 18 games last season with a little more help?
If that bothered Hamels last season, he never showed it. He only could control the way he pitched. If he pitched well, he believed the results would come. That is a different outlook than he had in the past, when he might have been more concerned with his ERA, record or throwing a no-hitter and racking up strikeouts.
Hamels has matured.
It is hard to believe, but a little more than six years ago he broke his left hand -- his pitching hand -- in an incident outside a bar in Clearwater, Fla. Hamels had surgery on the hand and returned to the mound June 21, 2005, with Class A Clearwater. He got promoted to Double-A Reading on July 4, only to be shut down the rest of the season July 19 because of back spasms.
It is difficult picturing Hamels in a similar situation today. He is married with a son. He has started The Hamels Foundation, which works to help inner-city schools and AIDS/HIV education and awareness in Malawi in Africa. He is a dedicated worker, training hard in the offseason so he is prepared to match his peers in the rotation.
"I thought I was invincible," Hamels said of that January 2005 fight in Clearwater. "I could do anything I wanted and never get in trouble. No consequences behind anything. You wake up the next morning and feel like a million bucks. It was all fun and games. That obviously catches up to you.
"The opportunities that you have you've got to take it now because it disappears fast. Look at Jamie [Moyer]. He's a phenomenal father figure, baseball mentor. And he would tell us, 'As you go on, the game goes away.' He's going out the door. I'm sure he'd love to be 22 again and starting it over. It puts it in a different perspective. You just change your life, your hobbies. Obviously, the people I've been surrounded by are older. It just takes time. I just saw the movie 'Hall Pass.' They didn't know what to do with the younger crowd anymore, because you grow up and you don't know how to operate in that crowd anymore. The values change."
Hamels' offseason workouts are an example of that. Earlier in his career, if Hamels went on vacation, he went on vacation. Now he brings a 45-pound bag of workout gear with him. It includes roughly 20 baseballs, a glove, cleats, cuff weights and resistance bands.
"I figured out how to basically train in the offseason," he said. "My first couple years, I didn't know what to do. It was making the time and the effort to go train. And that's what was hard because we travel so much. I'm in a different city, where do I go? I would carry a bag. I would go to a park and throw against a fence. Anywhere. Everywhere. We were in Missouri, Tahoe, Hawaii, San Diego. Everywhere. I called up and worked out at a gym in Tahoe. While everybody else was there skiing, I was in the gym on the basketball court throwing against a padded wall.
"When I was younger, I wouldn't even think about that. No, you're not allowed to do that. Well, if I ask I can. I made the effort. Now I'm like, 'Hey, this is my job.' It's kind of like a life or death situation. If I don't do it, I won't get better."
Hamels wants to get better. He took major strides last season following a disappointing 2009, which has many believing this season could be even better.
But the days of saying he wanted to win a Cy Young Award and throw a no-hitter are over. The big picture doesn't work for Hamels. The big picture clouds his thinking. It creates unnecessary stress and pressure.
"I've just got one game," he said. "That's just the perspective I took last year. It helps. It's all I'm going to take care of. Today I did my bullpen the best I possibly could. Tomorrow I'll try to get in the best possible shape. I think that's sort of the perspective that I've learned. If you take it one day at a time and do the best you can, you'll build into something great."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.