IT IS easy to imagine the types of thoughts that fly through a pitcher's mind when a line drive comes screaming off a bat headed directly toward the front of the mound, particularly when the hitter is Prince Fielder and the line drive is traveling with such force that it bounces off a mound of flesh and still has enough momentum to roll to the first baseman.
"I think anytime that you get a ball that's traveled back at you, especially from Prince Fielder, things do flash," said lefthander Cole Hamels, who left the Phillies' 6-1 loss to the Brewers yesterday after being struck in the back of his pitching arm with one out in the fourth inning. "You are just hoping that it doesn't hit you in a vulnerable spot. That can knock you out of games for either a while or it can really mess up your head psychologically."
But half an hour after the Phillies fell to 6-8, getting their lone run on a homer by Matt Stairs that broke up Dave Bush's no-hit bid with one out in the eighth inning, Hamels declared himself both healthy and fortunate.
Healthy, because the ball struck only muscle, leaving him with what he described as a "temporary tattoo." The medical label was a contusion, or bruise, that he says would not prevent him from making his next start. Fortunate, because the ball did not strike a bone or a joint, which could have caused more lasting damage.
"I'll be fine," Hamels said. "I've gotten hit in much worse spots, spots where you don't really come back as fast. I'll be able to come back and pitch in 5 days. Hopefully it will be 5 days instead of the 6 or 7 with these rain delays."
Nevertheless, the situation added to the frustrations that Hamels has endured three starts into the season.
His outing against the Brewers started with plenty of promise. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced, retiring the side in the second and third innings before he gave up Ryan Braun's two-run home run with one out in the fourth.
For the first time this season, Hamels looked very much like the pitcher who went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA last season while earning MVP honors in the National League Championship Series and World Series.
The velocity on his fastball sat in the 88-89 range, still a few ticks below his peak speed yet high enough to offset his changeup. Unlike his first two starts, when he allowed 12 runs in 9 2/3 innings against the Rockies and Padres, his pitch location was sharp.
"The first three innings, he was putting the ball basically where he wanted to and he had pretty good stuff," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He was in line to pitch a real good game."
That changed when Fielder stepped into the batter's box and sent the first pitch he saw screaming back toward the mound. The ball struck Hamels on the back of his pitching arm near the shoulder, then rolled to first base, where Ryan Howard picked it up as Fielder barreled in safely for an infield single.
Hamels put his hands on his thighs and dropped his head, a reaction that he says was born of frustration rather than pain.
"I didn't throw the pitch where I wanted to," said Hamels, who took the loss and is now 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA on the season. "And for me to make a mistake and then get hit, I think it's just frustrating the fact that I think if I would have made the pitch it wouldn't have hit me and I would still be in the game."
After the play, pitching coach Rich Dubee and trainer Mark Andersen ran out to the mound to examine Hamels. Manuel soon followed. Although Hamels said he wanted to remain in the game, Manuel decided to send him to the clubhouse and the training room as a precaution.
"When he got hit in the pitching arm in the biceps or triceps, it was time for him to come out of the game," Manuel said.
Hamels said he understood the logic.
"Sometimes, deep down, you have to listen to somebody else tell you what to do or show you what to do," Hamels said, "because you don't necessarily understand the consequences I could be putting on my arm or my body just from changing my mechanics due to something of the significant impact that I suffered."
Hamels said the trainers treated him with ice, but added that he does not think the incident will affect his preparation for his next start, which is scheduled for Tuesday against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
Manuel was less decisive, but said he did not anticipate Hamels missing a start.
"He seemed like he's OK," Manuel said. "I think he will [make his next start], but we'll just have to wait and see. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think he will." *