A SHEEPISH grin appeared on Cole Hamels' face when somebody broached the subject of his recently-completed 5-day suspension.
"I'm past that," Hamels said, almost as if he was reading from a cue card.
Clearly, the 28-year-old lefty spent part of his 5-day reprieve getting some media relations guidance. While that was probably a wise move, considering the fallout from his comments about his decision to hit Nationals prospect Bryce Harper with a pitch, Hamels showed Sunday why everybody's focus will soon return to his immense talent.
In a 3-2 victory over the Padres, he held San Diego to one run in seven innings while striking out five to improve his record to 5-1 and lower his ERA to 2.28. It was the sixth straight start in which he held an opponent under three runs in at least six innings of work. Since allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings in his first start of the season, Hamels has allowed just nine runs with 40 strikeouts and nine walks in 42 innings over six starts.
While general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has begun to use some of the same tough talk he employed in 2010, when the Phillies hovered around .500 throughout the first 4 months of the season, he might think twice about trading Hamels even if he does decide to become a "seller."
Over the last calendar year, Hamels' numbers (2.67 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.997 WHIP) are every bit as impressive as those posted by Roy Halladay (2.53 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1.027 WHIP) and Cliff Lee (2.02 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.955 WHIP). Plus, Hamels is 5 years younger than Lee, and 7 years younger than Halladay (Halladay and Lee have limited no-trade protection in their contracts).
At this point, it is still difficult to envision the 16-19 Phillies reaching a juncture where they have given up on contending before the trade deadline, mostly because the rotation figures to keep them competitive in most games.
Sunday, Hamels showed little rust from his 5-day suspension, which only served to move his regularly-scheduled start back a day, thanks to the day off the Phillies enjoyed on Thursday. The lefty was not allowed to dress in uniform or be in the clubhouse or dugout during the games for which he was suspended, meaning he was not in attendance for the team meeting that Charlie Manuel called on Wednesday after his team was swept by the Mets.
"I was here every day working out with the guys," Hamels said. "Obviously, I couldn't be here for the game, but I kept the same routine as much as I could. Being around them 24/7, maybe I needed a break from them anyway."
Since Jose Contreras returned from the disabled list in late-April, 16 of the 38 batters he has faced have reached base, including two of four in Sunday's win over the Padres. Said Charlie Manuel, "He's inconsistent. He's still trying to find his command and his stuff" . . . Jimmy Rollins' home run was his 38th career leadoff home run, extending a club record he already owned.