Wednesday, March 21, 2007

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

DAY 25: Cole Hamels

By Michael Rushton
The Phanatic Magazine

There is probably a lot more riding on Cole Hamels this year than we are allowing ourselves to believe.

After all, this will be Hamels’ first year on an opening day roster and the highly regarded lefty has just 23 career starts under his belt.

Yet, there he is, thrusted right into the middle of a rotation that's being noted as one of the best and deepest in the National League. So how is Hamels’ taking all of this pressure?

"My goal every year is to try to make the All-Star team, to win as many games as possible, to be in a competition for, oh, a trophy or an award,” Hamels told the Associated Press on March 5.

At least he is setting the bar low.

As of now, the Phillies are carrying six capable starting pitchers on their roster. And much has been said of Adam Eaton’s past injury problems, but let us not forget Hamels’ history as well. His minor league career was plagued with elbow and back ailments. His back, in fact, still bothers him somewhat today. Also, he had what we will simply call a “bar incident” that resulted in an injury to his pitching hand while in the minors.

Still, there is enough reason to be optimistic about the former first-round pick.

Outside of a shoulder problem that landed him on the disabled list last season, Hamels enjoyed a relatively healthy season by his standards. He pitched five scoreless innings in his MLB debut last May, and ended up going a 9-8 with a 4.08 earned run average on the season. However, more notable was his 145 strikeout total over 132 1/3 innings.

One of his better performances came in mid-September, when he tossed 6 2/3 no-hit innings in what was a win over Houston.

We could also talk about his jaw-dropping minor league stats that include more strikeouts than we know what to do with. But those numbers are moot. Hamels is now in the big show, and is still developing. For starters, he is still working on his pitch sequence and establishing the inside part of the plate.

"I think it will help me out with finishing guys by setting up my changeup," Hamels told the Delaware County Times on March 16. "Guys know my changeup. It’s nothing new. In order to help that pitch, I have to establish the inside part of the plate.

There is some concern with Hamels’ numbers so far this spring. In three starts, he is 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA. He has allowed seven earned runs in nine innings with five strikeouts and five walks.

But it is still spring, and numbers mean very little.

"He's worried about numbers. I don't worry about numbers here,” pitching coach Rich Dubee told "I saw a lot of good things. First, his arm speed is getting there. Second, his arm angle is much better. He lost his tempo and lost his angle at times, but for the most part I thought he repeated his delivery better today. He established a much better temp and angle to his fastball."

The bottom line is, Hamels could very well dictate how this rotation performs as a whole. At 23 years old, Hamels isn’t in danger of being moved to the bullpen should he falter. For starters, that didn’t work with Gavin Floyd last season. Also, it is time to see what Hamels is made of.

Hamels could also end up being one of the most exciting players on Philadelphia’s roster. He has enough out-pitches that a no-hitter is always possible. A high strikeout total is also very likely, if he is on.

But Hamels is what he is, another reason to believe.

Tommorrow: Freddy Garcia

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