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07/23/09 11:32 PM ET

Hamels, Phils encouraged by effort in win

Backed by early offense, lefty may be returning to form

PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels knows better than anybody how much of a struggle 2009 has been at times.

Of course, those struggles are relative.

Hamels is 6-5 with a 4.66 ERA after he allowed four hits and three runs in seven innings Thursday night in a 9-4 victory over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. His record and ERA are not bad, but they are not anywhere near where he expects himself to be. Hamels is a World Series MVP. He is an ace. He is somebody who is expected to roll out of bed and pitch seven innings with minimal effort.

"Saving the best for last, come on," Hamels joked. "I'm a second-half pitcher. Check the stats."

The statistics show Hamels entered Thursday's game 26-19 with a 3.99 ERA before the All-Star break and 17-9 with a 3.05 ERA after the break.

Maybe Hamels is starting to turn a corner.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he thinks Hamels is close to returning to form. That seems especially important as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. The Phillies are pursuing Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay, although they also have scouted Indians left-hander Cliff Lee. The Phillies need Hamels to return to form to create a dominant 1-2 punch with Halladay or Lee in the postseason.

But they also need him to return to form should they fall short and not acquire Halladay or Lee. If they don't get either of the former Cy Young Award winners, they will need Hamels to be especially dominant.

"We're not going to be able to go out there and feel good every start," Hamels said. "Today definitely was not a start where I felt stupendous or great. It was just kind of a start where I knew what I had, I knew what I had to go do and you just go out and pitch and be smart. I know I overdid it a bit in the fourth inning, but I settled down and went after it in the fifth, sixth and seventh."

The Phils, who have won 11 of 12 and are a Major League-best 15-4 in July, had given Hamels a good lead before he allowed three runs in the fourth. They scored three runs in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead and added another run in the third to make it 4-0. Hamels allowed a one-out walk to Adrian Gonzalez, a double to Chase Headley and a two-run homer to Kyle Blanks to make it 4-3.

But the Phillies continued to hit Padres right-hander Kevin Correia, scoring four more runs against him in the fourth to make it 8-3. Pedro Feliz and Jayson Werth each had three hits Thursday. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino each had two.

"Going in, you know it's not going to be an easy task," Correia said. "They hit some good pitches and some mistakes. It seemed like everything they hit was a base hit."

Everybody got a hit except Hamels, although he left the mound satisfied knowing he settled and pitched seven innings.

"I haven't been able to do it in a while," Hamels said.

He has pitched seven innings or more just five times in 19 starts (26.3 percent) this season. He had pitched seven innings 24 times in 33 starts (72.7 percent) last season on his way to MVP honors in the National League Championship Series and World Series.

"He's getting there," Manuel said. "He's getting close. He hasn't got his timing or rhythm down or something. But he stayed in there and battled. I thought his stuff was very good."

Hamels had to work hard Thursday night, but he worked and he won.

That is a start in the right direction.

"I try to go out there and put up zeros on the board," Hamels said. "It hasn't happened so far, but I know if I keep going out there and trying I will be able to work it out. It's been a helpful lesson. It's pushed me to stay on myself."

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