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07/01/09 11:18 PM ET

Hamels' rollercoaster season takes dip

Phils ace roughed up by Braves, while offense scuffles

ATLANTA -- Cole Hamels is supposed to be better than this.

He is expected to throw shutouts and carry no-hitters into the late innings. He is supposed to stop losing streaks and win World Series. But Hamels has not been that pitcher recently, and people are wondering why.

Hamels is wondering, too.

He isn't exactly sure why he has struggled recently -- he is 0-3 with a 6.18 ERA in his past five starts -- although he knows his command has been a problem. He allowed nine hits and seven runs in four-plus innings Wednesday in an 11-1 loss to the Braves at Turner Field, where Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens had a no-hitter until Paul Bako singled to right field with two outs in the seventh inning.

"It's a challenging year," Hamels said. "Not every time you got there, every season is going to be great. You have the years where you really have to learn who you are. You have to take what you did last year, kind of the ups, downs and really battle through it. I think that's where you learn who you are and what you're going to be capable of in the future. Things aren't going to be easy. You're put on a big pedestal when you win and win awards. You expect a lot out of yourself. And I expect a lot out of myself."

The loss Wednesday cut the Phillies' lead in the National League East to just a half-game over the Marlins, two games over the Mets and three games over the Braves.

The Phillies have lost 13 of their past 17 games.

The losing is troubling, but for a team with the worst starting pitching in the National League, Hamels' recent performance is even more troubling.

First things first, Hamels said he is healthy. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he thinks Hamels is healthy, too.

Hamels' velocity appeared to dip from the beginning of the game to the time he left in the fifth, although he thought his velocity was the same. The Braves noticed little difference.

"His fastball velocity isn't that far off what it is normally," Braves left fielder Matt Diaz said. "I really think the guys made him labor early."

But it is at least worth mentioning that Hamels threw a combined 262 1/3 innings in 2008, when he helped the Phils win their second World Series in 126 years. Hamels had pitched a combined 190 innings in 2007, which meant he jumped 72 1/3 innings in one season.

Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci has researched the effect increases of 30 innings or more has on pitchers 25 or younger. There were 24 pitchers in that category the previous three seasons. Sixteen of those pitchers suffered injuries the following season. Seven had worse ERAs, an increase of more than a run.

That is 23 of 24 pitchers who struggled or suffered injuries.

Hamels, 25, went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA last season. He is 4-5 with a 4.98 ERA this season, which means he falls in line with Verducci's research.

"I don't know. I can't answer that," Hamels said. "I think that I'm sharp. I feel good every single day I go out there. I haven't had a single problem. The elbow thing was a Spring Training issue. That's gone. I have not felt that at all. I haven't felt any stiffness or any more tired. I really haven't."

Hamels had been scheduled to start Opening Night against the Braves on April 5, but he had inflammation in his elbow. He received a cortisone injection, which pushed back his season debut to April 10 in Colorado. He allowed 11 hits and seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings in arguably the worst start of his career.

His season has been up and down since. He left his April 23 start against Milwaukee in the fourth inning when Prince Fielder ripped a line drive off his left shoulder. He left his start April 28 against Washington after he sprained his left ankle.

Hamels had pitched well at times after that. He threw a shutout against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 4, but he has thrown more than six innings just three times this season. He got ejected for the first time in his career Friday in Toronto, when he allowed eight hits and four runs in just 4 2/3 innings. Then the Braves knocked him around Wednesday.

Hamels does not sound particularly worried. Manuel does not, either.

But Manuel knows they need Hamels to start pitching better quickly before this tail spin continues. Wednesday was not pretty, and the Phillies can't continue to play like this and expect to defend their World Series championship.

"They took it to us," Manuel said. "They hit us and they outplayed us. Their pitcher did a hell of a job. We got beat pretty bad. ... Sometimes if you're going to lose a game and you get beat up, that can help you. It's never good when you get beat. But at the same time, if you get beat bad enough, you see if you can come back. We've always been resilient. We've always managed to hold our own. Hopefully, that's how we're going to come out and play tomorrow."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.