Finally the Phillies have a left-hander in AAA who may be the man for the job.
You’ve probably heard of him already. Here’s a hint. He’s 22 years old and has had just two starts at the AAA level, 32 professional starts in all. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t talk of bringing up a greenhorn like that, but the thing is, these aren’t just good starts. They’re phenomenal starts.
"I thought it was Steve Carlton pitching against us," said Richmond manager Brian Snitker. "This kid's good. He's everything he's cracked up to be."
He’s talking about Cole Hamels, the Phillies answer to Mark Prior and Dontrelle Willis.
When Cole Hamels is on the mound he’s been darn-near unhittable. His first two career starts at the AAA level will rank among the top performances of the year by any starter at the AAA level. Not just for the Red Barons. For AAA, period. You’re talking about a debut with 14 strikeouts in just 7 innings with 0 walks. That’s ZERO walks against 14 strikeouts. He followed that up by pitching a complete game two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and just one walk. One walk against 12 strikeouts, two hits in nine innings. He’s dominating the best young talent in the game.
But is he ready for the Show? Are 32 starts enough to merit comparison to Lefty, the Phillies great number 32?
"He's got a special presence about him," said Phillies GM Pat Gillick. "As soon as a young person shows he can be consistent, he's ready to advance to the next level…You've got to show you're not afraid to get hit. You can't go into a shell. You've got to come back firing."
Gillick might have to wait a while before he finds any adversity for Hamels to get over. He basically hasn’t had any on the mound and the way he’s pitching, he might not have any anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Gillick’s comments about handling adversity point implicitly towards Gavin Floyd.
Floyd was the other half of the Phillies minor-league dynamic duo. In Floyd and Hamels, the Phillies held a pair of future aces on a collision course for the Show. Early in 2005, the elder Floyd took center stage when Hamels dropped out of sight with a series of unfortunate accidents. But given the chance, Floyd has failed to make the most of his opportunities. Since his first magical start against the Cardinals in the spring of 2005, Floyd’s mound presence just doesn’t demonstrate the mentality of someone who is ready for a major-league pennant race. In fact, Floyd struggled all of last season, even in AAA.
Now thanks to Cole “The Southpaw Slaw” Hamels, the Phillies are in a bit of a pickle. If Gillick is waiting to see how Hamels handles pressure and adversity, the same must go for Floyd. It is interesting that Gillick spoke of consistency as a pre-requisite to being in Philly, since that is exactly what Hamels has shown and Floyd has lacked. Hamels isn’t “effectively wild”, as Pirates manager Jim Tracy recently called Floyd. He’s wildly effective.
You have to wonder how many starts it will take for a flip-flop since Hamels, unlike Floyd, is winning with his head as much as with his arm. Meanwhile, it’s looking like Floyd needs the chance to find himself in AAA.
Hamels could electrify the Phillies fan base. The Phillies can’t pretend they don’t have a job opening for a left-hander in the starting rotation and Hamels looks like someone about to break the door down.
Said beleaguered Phillies manager Charlie Manuel: "If he can help us, I'm going to get him."
Ideally, both Floyd and Hamels will one day anchor the Fightin’s starting rotation, but for now, the gap that opened up between them in the Spring of 2005 looks to be completely in reverse, with Floyd the more questionable of the two.
Another dominating start by Hamels should force the Phillies hand. Gavin Floyd may not like it, but he’s on the hot seat. Over the next two or three starts he’s got to seize hold of his spot and not let go. This is the big leagues, kid. Someone always wants your job. Hear that banging noise? That’s the Phillies front door about to get kicked in. And it’s your lunch he’s after. The Phillies want to see if you can hold him off. And the same goes for “Mad Dog” Ryan Madson, who might find himself back in the bullpen with his dream of starting a dream deferred. Better bear down boys. Because the Phillies are about to serve up a large helping of Cole’s Slaw, and there might not be enough room on the plate for turkeys.