He is still so incredibly young, and his career statistics are not reliable indicators yet, but Cole Hamels took the mound yesterday in the only major-league situation that has given him consistent trouble: daylight.
All pitchers would rather throw at night when the ball is more difficult to see. There's nothing unusual in that. But Hamels, who might be the best lefthanded prospect ever to emerge from the Phillies' farm system, has career numbers that reflect more than just the usual day/night disparity.
Whether it is because his exceptional change-up is easier to detect during the day, or because the differing rhythms of a day start throw him off just that much, or because the 23-year-old has only 28 career starts and the law of averages has not been put into effect yet - whatever the reason - the numbers are almost stunning.
In his career, Hamels has a 2.70 earned run average in night starts and a 5.92 ERA in day starts. This season (admittedly only five games old for Hamels), he has a league-leading 0.56 ERA at night and a 5.71 ERA during the day.
The statistics have gotten the attention of manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee and, sooner rather than later, Hamels' starts could be manipulated to take advantage of his strengths and avoid what has so far been a weakness.
"It's something Dubee and I will definitely talk about. I've noticed it," Manuel said. "I was looking at those the other day and thinking, man, he's going to get that 3 o'clock game."
That is what Hamels got yesterday against Washington, and while he pitched well enough, it was just well enough to lose on a day when the Phillies couldn't decipher the nasty mixture of sliders and sinkers being thrown by Nationals starter Shawn Hill.
"I felt a little rushed and I got out of my comfort zone in the sixth inning," Hamels said. "I knew I was rushing, but I got impatient."
The impatience came along in the sixth, when Washington scored three runs to expand a 1-0 lead. Hamels allowed two singles up the middle to start the inning, wild-pitched the runners to second and third, then got an out on a bullet line drive to third baseman Wes Helms. The Phils walked Austin Kearns intentionally to load the bases before Ryan Church blooped a base hit into left field that scored two runs. Hamels' day ended when he walked the next two batters to force in the final run in what would become a 4-2 Washington win.
As is the case with most of Hamels' starts, he relied almost exclusively on his fastball, which is pretty good, and his change-up, which is outstanding. In other games to come - particularly during the day, perhaps - it might be good to give more work to the curveball that is still a pitch in the research and development stage.
"I threw just a handful of them today, maybe five," Hamels said. "I've been able to find a better grip, and now I just have to throw it and let it curve."
At the moment, Hamels can fall into the trap of trying to make it curve, as he did on the wild pitch that eluded the backhanded block attempt of catcher Rod Barajas.
Hamels is a very good, maybe great, young pitcher, and he has an excellent chance to eventually surpass the 132 wins by Chris Short that stand as the team record for a lefthanded farm product. He's going to be just fine, but at this stage of his career, he's a work in progress and the work goes a lot better at night, according to the loud shouts of the numbers.
"I don't think I've ever really looked into that, because I haven't had enough games or enough times," Hamels said of the disparity. "It's one of those things. You can't let day or night or the weather affect you. But in the daytime, the hitters can definitely see the ball a little better."
If you want an indication whether the Phillies are mindful enough of the trend to alter their rotation, the answer will come in two weeks. Hamels' next two starts, if everything remains on schedule, are night games. After that, there is an off-day May 10, and the Phils would have the option to skip another pitcher and use Hamels on his regular rest in a night game May 11 at Citizens Bank Park against the Cubs, or keep all the pitchers starting in order and push Hamels back to an afternoon start the following day.
Jumping him ahead to the night game would have a double payoff, because his start after that one also would be at night on May 16 against Milwaukee rather than in the afternoon the next day.
So, let's watch and see what they do.
"It's something I've got to work on," Hamels said of his performance in day starts, "but everybody does. Some pitchers pitch well in day games, but most pitchers struggle in the day, I believe. With me, I don't think you can count it as significant, because I don't think I've played enough. It's almost like looking at turf versus grass now."
Fair enough, and maybe the stats will even out quickly. But they are so uneven at the moment that it's definitely worth talking about.