In the final stretch of games in Florida, starting pitchers want to be able to show they can not only pitch deep into games, but pitch effecitvely, too.
So the start of Cole Hamels' sixth and final inning against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night was encouraging.
He struck out former teammate Shane Victorino on three pitches. On the final pitch, Victorino was frozen in the batter's box when Hamels broke off a knee-buckling curve ball.
"I guess I’ll have to hear from him," Hamels joked of the talkative Victorino. "I know he’s not used to seeing me throw that when he’s out in center field."
Hamels' curve used to be his third pitch. But it wasn't quite as sharp as he liked, and so he added a cutter to his repertoire in 2010. The curve was almost a forgotten pitch.
But he's brought it back in the last two seasons. Hamels used a curve on 10.1 percent of his pitches in 2011 and on 8.9 percent of them in 2012, according to fangraphs.com.
The hook he unleashed on Victorino? It was Barry Zito-esque.
"That’s probably one of the best ones I’ve thrown in a very long time, even last season," said Hamels.
Hamels, who will start opposite Tim Hudson on Opening Day in Atlanta on April 1, will make one more Grapefruit League start, on Wednesday in Lakeland against the Detroit Tigers. He threw 84 pitches on Thursday night.
With his fourth pitch in gear and his pitch count nearing 90, Hamels appears ready for the start of 2013.