BOSTON - When Cole Hamels came to spring training, the Phillies had two priorities for their talented but troubled lefthander: Become more than a two-pitch pitcher. And stop letting a bad break lead to even worse results.
Thirteen starts into his fifth season in the majors, Hamels has made a number of discoveries. One, he can still rely heavily on his two best pitches, his fastball and change-up. Two, a deep breath can go a long way.
Hamels was sharp in Sunday's 5-3 victory to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He allowed only one run in seven innings, struck out eight and allowed five hits.
"I think he's pretty good right now," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The only Boston run against Hamels scored when Adrian Beltre hit his cutter over the Green Monster for a solo home run in the second. It was one of three cutters Hamels threw Sunday.
Of the 113 pitches Hamels threw, 102 were either fastballs or change-ups. He showed his curveball and cutter only a few times, but enough to keep it in the back of hitters' minds.
Hamels' fastball velocity averaged 93.9 m.p.h. on Sunday, according to Pitch f/x data from Major League Baseball. In his first 12 starts of 2010, his fastball averaged 90.8 m.p.h. on the gun.
"I think it's just that I've felt really good over the last few starts," Hamels said. "I think it's just a matter of being as free and easy as I possibly can."
Hamels, who had fallen victim to "pitching against himself," as pitching coach Rich Dubee termed it in spring training, also showed how far he's come mentally since last season.
In the sixth inning, with Hamels' pitch count mounting, he faced Boston catcher Victor Martinez with no one out and a runner on second. With a 3-2 count, Martinez fouled off six pitches. On the 15th pitch of the at-bat, he took a fastball outside for ball four.
"I probably should have drilled him with the first pitch," Hamels said. "Just kidding."
Dubee immediately sprung up from the top step of the dugout to meet with Hamels on the mound and give him a momentary breather.
Hamels struck out the next hitter, Beltre, on three pitches. After Chase Utley made a good play at second to retire David Ortiz on a fielder's choice, Mike Lowell flied out to right-center to end the inning.
Hamels escaped - and didn't allow the long at-bat to bother him.
"It's tough," Hamels said. "I've had a few times in my career where one hitter has killed me. That didn't necessarily kill me, but I'm glad it happened later in the game instead of early, because that would have been frustrating."
Manuel praised Hamels' composure. He has said many times during the season, Hamels' success begins and ends with his fastball. On Sunday, it looked as sharp as it has yet.
"He had a good fastball, real good," Manuel said. "Real good command there."
Catcher Carlos Ruiz appeared to injure his right knee when sliding into the backstop after a passed ball in the ninth inning. Manuel and a trainer came out to talk to Ruiz, who walked off the injury and stayed in the game. . . . Brad Lidge earned his fourth save in his fourth chance. He recorded the final two outs of the game. The first batter he faced was Darnell McDonald, a teammate of Lidge's at Cherry Creek (Colo.) High School. McDonald struck out swinging. Lidge has pitched 72/3 scoreless innings in his last eight outings.
A pair of aces, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia, will face off when the Phillies go to Yankee Stadium for a rematch of the 2009 World Series against the Yankees on Tuesday. "We keep drawing these Red Sox and Yankees," Manuel said. "We better hang around in the National League for a while. That'll be a pretty good matchup."