ATLANTA - Cole Hamels' maturation as a major-league pitcher has become a reality television show appearing every fifth day.
Some episodes have been tremendous. Witness that 15-strikeout gem in Cincinnati on April 21. Others, like the loss to Washington in his next outing, haven't been worth kibitzing about at the water cooler.
This is what you get with a talented 23-year-old still learning to navigate his way through big-league lineups. Every game - the good ones, the bad ones and the ones in between - is a learning experience, another rung up the ladder toward big-league maturity, and fans get to watch the whole process in hi-def.
Tuesday night's episode was about not giving in when things don't go well early in a game. Hamels' resilience helped the Phillies pull off a 6-4 win over the Atlanta Braves, their first victory in five tries against their longtime National League East nemesis.
Throwing mostly fastballs and change-ups, Hamels was hit hard in the first inning. He gave up a homer, two doubles and two singles as the Phils fell behind, 3-0.
"Every pitch was right down the pipe," Hamels said of the first inning. "It was like I was putting the ball on a tee. Last year, I would have lasted 21/3 innings and given up six or seven runs after a start like that."
Hamels ended up staying around for 71/3 innings. He survived nine hits, including two Chipper Jones homers, in picking up his third win. After the first inning, he kept the Braves off the board until the eighth when Jones homered. Brett Myers and Tom Gordon closed it out.
Hamels had trouble controlling his adrenaline in the early innings. During one of his frequent mound visits, pitching coach Rich Dubee asked Hamels whether he was on something.
"He told me to calm down," Hamels said. "I was just so amped up."
Eventually Hamels calmed down. That brought his fastball down and allowed his change-up to move naturally. Last year, he might not have been able to make that adjustment.
"It's all about experience," he said. "If you want to be a great pitcher, you've got to know to handle these situations, and that's something I aspire to."
Manager Charlie Manuel, who was ejected for arguing what he thought should have been a balk in the eighth, was impressed with Hamels' resilience.
"His command wasn't as good as usual," Manuel said. "You've probably seen him a lot better. So have I. But he battled."
Hamels was supported by excellent defense. The Phils short-circuited the Braves' first inning rally by cutting down a runner at the plate. They caught Craig Wilson between third and home for an out in the second, and turned double plays in the third and fifth innings. Third baseman Wes Helms made a diving stop on a Kelly Johnson smash to end the seventh and Hamels left the mound clapping.
Offensively, the Phils went just 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. Despite all that, they rebounded after the first inning and scored four in the second, sending soft-tossing Atlanta starter Mark Redman to an early shower.
Aaron Rowand, who batted second with pressing Shane Victorino getting a night out of the starting lineup, had a pair of RBI hits to bring his average to .383.
Leading by 4-3, the Phils pushed across a run on Rowand's single in the third, taking a 5-3 lead. Rod Barajas' homer in the seventh made it 6-3.
Despite struggling with his command, Hamels protected the lead nicely and, after the first, didn't give up another run until the eighth when he was chased by Chipper Jones' second homer of the game, which cut the Phils' lead to two runs.
Hamels has struggled lately with the feel on his curveball. He mixed some in late, but mostly worked with his fastball/change-up combination.
The fifth inning showed how much he relied on his two-pitch arsenal. He walked the first two batters, Johnson and Edgar Renteria, then threw five straight fastballs to get Chipper Jones to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Up came Andruw Jones, who won Monday night's game for the Braves with a three-run homer in the ninth. Hamels threw three consecutive change-ups for a quick strikeout.