At the beginning of spring training, I was pretty skeptical about the prospect of Cole Hamels' incorporating a cutter into his repertoire in time for the start of the season. When Hamels first reported, pitching coach Rich Dubee and manager Charlie Manuel both expressed some doubt about whether the pitch would become a regular part of the lefty's arsenal this year. But after Hamels showed decent command of the pitch in a strong two-inning performance against the Blue Jays Friday afternoon, it might be time to take his new weapon seriously.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, the most important thing Hamels displayed in his outing was a strong arm. He admitted to taking a peek at the radar readings at the scoreboard at Dunedin Stadium, and if they are to believed, he was consistently throwing 89-90 miles per hour, never dipping below 88. Keep in mind that last season, Hamels was sitting 86-88 in his first start of the regular season. Although he allowed Jose Bautista to homer off him in his first at-bat, results are secondary to process at this point, and you had to be impressed with how he fared.
"It's a lot nicer knowing that I'm somewhat around what I normally throw during the season," said Hamels, who allowed two hits and struck out two while walking one in his first outing of the spring. "I think that's kind of nice to really show that my body and my arm feel up to par and I can only go up."
While plenty of attention has been paid to Hamels' need to develop a consistent third pitch, particularly for his at-bats against left-handed hitters, much of his struggles last season stemmed from him inability to consistently throw his fastball with ease. Both his velocity and his location were inconsistent, which both he and the Phillies trace back to an offseason in which he did not throw regularly.
Yesterday, however, Hamels looked much closer to the form that Roy Halladay displayed in his first spring outing, consistently hitting his spots with both his fastball and his change-up, while mixing in his curveball and his work-in-progress cutter.
Hamels said he threw six cutters -- I marked down five on my pitch count. He got Lyle Overbay to ground out to second base in the first inning on his cutter, which to the naked eye looks a lot like his fastball, except with a quick, tight break on it. He also got Joey Gathright to swing and miss on a cutter in the second inning. Both players are left-handed hitters, and Hamels said afterward he views the cutter as a weapon primarily on that side of the plate.
He threw a couple of cutters in the dirt, and got Gathright to foul one off before getting him to swing and miss at one.
Overall, Hamels threw 32 pitches, 20 of them for strikes. According to my count, he threw
- four change-ups, all of them for strikes
- four curveballs -- two in the dirt, one that just missed low, and one that prompted a swing and a miss.
- five cutters, three of them for strikes
- 18 fastballs -- 11 for strikes, including two hits.
As for the cutter, Hamels said he is optimistic that he will have enough confidence in the pitch to bring it into the regular season, even saying that he envisioned a day when it becomes his third pitch.
More from Hamels. . .
On his rough debut in Colorado last season: "I don't think that will happen anymore. Obviously, not everybody is Jamie Moyer, but if you aren't able to get the movement, you can't pitch in that sort of (velocity) range with the sort of stuff that I have."
On the home run he allowed: "It was just adding to the mandatory spring training trend. I'm glad I got it out of the way early. It was just a fastball. It was the second pitch I've thrown to a hitter competitively without a screen around and I left it down the middle. The first pitch I really executed and was able to hit it, and that one I was just trying to go back there again and threw it down the middle and Bautista hit it. That's what happens when you throw pitches down the pipe."
On the cutter: "I threw it a lot more than I anticipated, just because I was going toward the swings. It's nice to know because I'm working on it. I easily could have thrown my change-up in any of those situations, but I'm really trying to stray from it and throw the curveball and throw the cutter more so, and that's what I was able to do. I know there were a couple of counts where I could have gone straight to the change-up. That's kind of what I normally would always favor. But now to add in the curveball, the cutter, I just think it makes a little harder for the hitters."
On feeling comfortable with the cutter by the end of spring training: "I think it's something that if I'm really able to execute it then I can really take it out there and use it more than I anticipated. But I really do know in spring training that I have to establish the fastball. All of those hits were off fastballs, and that's kind of where the first game, I know I'm not going to hit all my spots every time out, but just getting the reps with my fastball first and foremost is key. But when I'm able to get myself in a strikeout situations and I have three pitches now I can throw to really get a guy out, I think that makes it more of a challenge for them to go up and battle."