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Trying to put Hamels' struggles into focus

You don't have to go very far to find the last wunderkind pitcher who followed up a phenomenal postseason campaign with a season full of inconsistency.

NOTE: This story has been corrected.

You don't have to go very far to find the last wunderkind pitcher who followed up a phenomenal postseason campaign with a season full of inconsistency.

On Aug. 4, 2004, a young righthander named Josh Beckett allowed eight runs - five earned - on nine hits in four innings of an 11-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who would go on to win just 51 games and hit just .253 as a team. The previous season, at the age of 23, Beckett led the Marlins to a dramatic six-game win over the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, claiming MVP honors in the process. Less than a year later, he was 4-7 with a 4.54 ERA after that loss to Arizona and had two stints on the disabled list.

Beckett finished that 2004 season strong, going 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA in his final 11 starts of the season.

Now, 5 years later, the Phillies are hoping Cole Hamels - who won World Series MVP honors at the age of 24 last year, but is 7-6 with a 4.68 ERA this season - can experience a similar renaissance.

A return to the form he displayed down the stretch in 2008, when he posted a 2.42 ERA in his final 10 starts of the regular season then went 4-0 with a 1.80 in five postseason starts, would give the Phillies two legitimate No. 1 starters at the top of their rotation.

Here is a look at three key points about Hamels' performance thus far and the looming stretch run.

* Velocity: Everybody who has a stake in Hamels' performance - manager Charlie Manuel, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and Hamels himself - has said that his prized left arm is healthy. The velocity on his fastball, they say, has not suffered a significant decline. A look at available data suggests that a bigger problem might be the consistency of that velocity. According to, a well-respected Web site that catalogs pitch data, Hamels' fastball has averaged 90.0 mph this season, compared with 89.9 in 2008 and 91.1 in 2007. But the consistency of his velocity was greater last season when this season. Take, for example, Hamels' loss to the Giants Sunday, compared to a loss to the Dodgers roughly 1 year ago when he allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings.

In the 2008 start, Hamels threw 50 fastballs, according to data recorded by Major League Baseball. Of those 50 pitches, 43 (86 percent) reached at least 90 mph, and 11 (22 percent) were clocked at 93 mph or greater. On Sunday, Hamels threw 44 fastballs. According to the same tracking system that was used in the 2008 start, 29 of those fastballs (66 percent) reached at least 90 mph, and three (7 percent) reached at least 93.

Against the Giants Sunday, Hamels fastball topped out around 93 mph, like the one at which Eli Whiteside struck out swinging in the third. But it bottomed out at 86, like the one Aaron Rowand singled on in the sixth.

* Location: Any decline in velocity - however slight - increases the importance of locating one's pitches. It is the reason Jamie Moyer has been able to stay in the game despite throwing in the low-80s. Like his new condo in Center City, Hamels' return to greatness will be a matter of location, location, location.

Take Rowand's triple in the first inning. Catcher Carlos Ruiz had set up for a pitch down and in, but Hamels left an 89 mph fastball up just enough to enable Rowand to slice it into the alley in right-center. It did not appear to be a bad pitch - Hamels later said he had no problem with it - but against a hitter like Rowand, at 89 mph, it missed just enough.

"Location and command," Manuel said after the game. "His stuff is every bit of what it's always been."

* Focus: It stands to reason that after a season in which he threw more than 260 innings, and an offseason that was a month shorter than usual, Hamels might not be feeling as fresh as he did last year. Maybe there are a couple of ticks missing on his fastball. Maybe his arm isn't gliding on a frictionless plane. Maybe he feels different right now than he has at any point in his first 2 1/2 big-league seasons. But the line between the good pitchers and the all-time greats is separated by those who can't overcome and those who can. Hamels is still just 25 years old. He might be battling things right now that are brand new to him. But he showed last year what kind of competitor he is, and it should be fun to watch him during this current step in the maturation process.

"He's a competitor," Manuel said. "He wants to stay out there and he wants to get it done. He's determined. He's going to be OK. He'll get it going. I know I say that, but he is. He is going to get it going."

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at