Cole Hamels is a good pitcher. Know that. Believe that. Don't worry about that. While Hamels has had a tough spring, there are reasons for his struggles and many even know that his struggles weren't all unexpected.
The latest cause for concern was a minor league outing that Hamels made where he was completely shelled. In 3 2/3 innings, minor league hitters pounded Hamels for four hits, four walks and four runs, including a home run and they struck out only once against the budding superstar. Very quickly, internet message boards filled with doom and gloom stories. "Maybe he needs to start the season at triple-A wrote one fan." Others ran to the thought that Hamels' back woes had flared and that he could be headed to the disabled list. Some even went so far as to say, in effect, "I told you so. We should have traded him a couple of years ago."
Stop the madness.
In his last couple of outings, Hamels has gotten hit hard and the fact that a bunch of minor leaguers did it might be cause for concern if you only looked at the surface of the outing. Look deeper and there is a reason to calm the fears of the Phillies' loyal fans. Hamels was pulled from the start against the Yankees and sent to pitch in the minor league game for two reasons. First, the Phillies are intrigued by Zack Segovia, who started - and pitched very well - in place of Hamels. Second, and most importantly, Hamels wanted to work on his secondary pitches and wanted to work on pitching inside to hitters. Both are things that he's worked on half-heartedly in spring games this season, but wanted to go full steam ahead with both projects in a game situation. In the minor league outing, Hamels abandoned his change-up, which will be one of the best in the majors when all is said and done on his career. He worked on his breaking pitches and he pounded the ball inside. He also worked on his fastball, which mechanically has been messed up this spring. He was pitching completely backward, not worrying about the count or the situation, and preferring instead to just throw the pitches that he needed to work on.
After the game, Hamels was disappointed at how things had gone, but not concerned. And he certainly wasn't injured. Hamels and pitching coach Rich Dubee both admitted that Hamels has some mechanical issues to work on, but neither threw up a red flag. "Getting the reps in and the opportunities with your games and everything, there has to be that point where things are starting to click. I think I'm still trying to find that," admitted Hamels to the Philadelphia Inquirer after the outing. As for Dubee, he thought that he was starting to see positives from Hamels and that it's just a matter of things coming into focus a little better. "He's worried about numbers. I don't worry about numbers here. I saw a lot of good things," explained Dubee, who talked about Hamels getting his arm speed and angle to much better spots than they had been.
Odds are that when the season starts, Hamels will be ready to go. There are just under two weeks until the opener and Hamels is not a reason for concern.
Freddy Garcia has also struggled this spring, but his problems aren't because he's trying new things. His problems may be physical. Garcia left Wednesday night's start against Toronto with what was described as right bicep stiffness. Garcia was examined in Clearwater after exiting the game and checked out with no major concerns. He won't throw for a few days and will be examined by team doctor Michael Ciccotti Saturday when he arrives in Clearwater as part of a routine trip to camp. It's still possible that Garcia could wind up on the DL to start the season. Garcia's velocity has been down all spring and there appears to be more cause for concern with Garcia than there should be with Hamels.
Be concerned too about Tom Gordon. While the Phillies are insisting that he's alright, one source close to the team leaked news that there are some concerns about his shoulder. Recent tests showed that his shoulder is showing every bit of the wear and tear of a long career and there are some who wonder if he'll make it through the season without serious issues with his shoulder.
For the optimists among us, at least the Phillies have Jon Lieber to step into the rotation. While he's not Freddy Garcia, he's also not Paul Abbott. As for the bullpen, Segovia is continuing to draw rave reviews, especially after his outing against the Yankees. He was a dark horse to start the season with the big league club, but he's a much lighter horse now.
Be glad too, that the Phillies have Chris Coste. Carlos Ruiz was a late scratch from Wednesday's game with a stiff shoulder. Manager Charlie Manuel admitted that he's concerned about Ruiz since he's had shoulder issues before, as recently as 2005. Coste would step in as the backup catcher and Jayson Werth would likely also get some time behind the plate this spring if Ruiz is unable to start the year healthy.
Ruiz was also examined Wednesday night and likely won't play until he too will be examined by Ciccotti on Saturday. The early reports on Ruiz weren't as bad as Manuel had originally feared though and Ruiz may be able to play in a few days.