For Phillies' Cole Hamels, a Giant chance to showcase his talents
A good outing against San Francisco would help the lefthander's marketability as trade deadline approaches.
LOS ANGELES - After watching the man Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis called "the best pitcher on the planet" finish off a 13-strikeout, complete-game shutout against his team, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sat in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night almost in awe of Clayton Kershaw.
"What impressed me was that ninth inning," Mackanin said. "He wanted that shutout."
Tonight, Cole Hamels will take the mound opposite fellow former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner when the Phillies begin a three-game series at AT&T Park with the reigning world champion San Francisco Giants. The trade deadline is three weeks from today.
You have to wonder if Hamels, much like Kershaw and that ninth inning, is beginning to smell the deadline and is pitching with a purpose. The end of the drawn-out, never-ending rumor mill process is nearing.
"Yeah, I think so," Mackanin said.
Hamels probably had a chance to go to next week's All-Star Game if he didn't allow nine runs in two of his first three starts of the season. But he enters his final start of the first half with a very respectable 3.02 ERA (which was lower than Kershaw's before Wednesday night).
He has allowed one or zero runs in five of his last 11 starts. Hamels has a 2.48 ERA in that two-month run, along with a 81-to-16 strikeout to walk ratio in 76 1/3 innings.
If he's showcasing himself to interested parties, Hamels is holding up his end of the bargain as the darling of the trade deadline. And it's fair to assume whatever team does end up getting Hamels could be getting an even better version of the 31-year-old lefthander.
Hamels seems more than ready for a change of scenery, at least according to how Mackanin has seen him in his first couple weeks.
"We had a talk one day. I told him. 'I know you're an outstanding competitor, but in general you're kind of aloof,' " Mackanin said. " 'And I get it. But just remember who you are: You're a premier pitcher in the National League. Go out there and pitch like that. Do your job and don't worry about the other stuff.' "
"Everyone needs to be reminded. I understand [Jonathan] Papelbon, I understand Cole, I understand everybody. But, we're all getting paid to do a job. It's easy . . . it's easy to give up and say we're not very good."
Mackanin said it was far from a problem or an issue. But he noticed it - Hamels keeping to himself, "ho-humming" his way between starts - and just brought it up with the pitcher in a one-on-one conversation. Mackanin has had similar conversations with nearly all of his players since taking over for Ryne Sandberg last month.
"Just to see what they're thinking about," Mackanin said. "I always joked around with guys [before] but never talked to them on a one-on-one basis, see what's on their mind. Certainly the trade and that whole situation is on his mind. For guys that are used to winning, it's tough to deal with.
"But you know what, it's tough for me, too. It's tough for the guys who aren't used to winning. No one likes to lose. It was just a nice one-on-one chat, I said, 'For what it's worth, you're a professional, you're one of the top pitchers in baseball. Put everything else out of your mind and when you go out there to pitch, just compete like you always do. Don't think about anything else.' "
Hamels has been on the trade block since the winter, when the front office finally committed to an organizational rebuild. Hamels made his feelings clear in an interview with USA Today prior to spring training, saying he wanted to win and knew it was not going to happen in Philadelphia.
Since the spring, Hamels has dodged nearly every trade-related question. But it's only human for it to weigh on his mind. At some point in the next three weeks, he's likely to leave the only organization he's known for the last 14 years.
He knows the clock is ticking. As for the man pulling the trigger (along with team president Pat Gillick)?
"Nope," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said this week at Dodger Stadium.
Amaro surprisingly stood pat at the deadline last year. But doesn't he feel the need to complete trades within the next three weeks?
"Nope," Amaro said. "If it's going to do something to help our club long-term, yes. But do we need to do something? I don't think so."
Amaro spoke like a GM who is getting lowballed by offers for the likes of Hamels, Papelbon and other veterans the team would probably like to move in the next three weeks in order to open spots for younger players.
"I don't think it's an issue of lowballing," Amaro said. "I think it's an issue of, like when we were in a buyers' mode, trying to figure out what's best for the organization. What's best for each one of those organizations. They have to value what they want and how they want to proceed. That's really up to them."
Meanwhile, Hamels waits. And pitches.
Pitching in the playoff-like atmosphere that is a nearly nightly occurrence in San Francisco should satisfy his competitive drive for one night, at least.