CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Much of the off-season talk about Cole Hamels centered around adding a new pitch. Both Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee spoke near the end of last season about what good it would do Hamels to add another breaking ball along with his curveball and how he would likely come to spring with a new pitch.
Since Hamels arrived here, the coaching staff has eased away that philosophy. So what changed?
"Nothing changed," Dubee said recently. "The third pitch is the first step. Well, where's his third pitch? We have to see where he is with his curveball. If we don't think he's going to be consistent enough, then we might have to add a fourth. The biggest part is that he's much better prepared now, mentally and physically.
"It's hard to work on two at once. Let's try to establish some consistency with the curveball first. He has shown that the curveball is a very workable pitch when he commands it and throws it enough. Let's do that first."
Dubee's point is smart. If the Phillies have faith in Hamels' curveball -- and it is apparent that's the case -- then they want the focus on that pitch alone.
But this wasn't the case late last season. The following are excerpts from an Oct. 31 Inquirer story:
A starting pitcher can win with two pitches - look at what A.J. Burnett did with a fastball and curveball in Game 2 - but he can't do it consistently. In an era when teams play each other within their division up to 18 times, a reality that can lead to familiarity, it is imperative that a starter have a deep arsenal of pitches to keep hitters off balance.
This is why Hamels will work on adding another breaking ball, either a slider or a cutter, to his pitch mix during spring training.
"Putting another pitch in the back of the hitter's mind can only help me," Hamels said yesterday.
Hamels does not intend to junk his curveball. Ideally, he'd improve that pitch and gain more confidence throwing it.
Dubee has talked to Hamels about adding a slider or cutter to his repertoire. In fact, Hamels said, he experimented with a slider in August. He said he threw one of them against Pittsburgh on Aug. 26.
"It got hit, so I didn't throw it again," he said.
Spring training is more conducive to learning a new pitch, and Hamels will give it a serious effort when the Phillies report to Clearwater in February.
"We'd like to see him keep the curveball and add a more commandable breaking ball," Dubee said.
Dubee said the slider and the cutter were less complex breaking balls than the curveball and thus easier to control. Hamels' curveball, when on, breaks downward from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock. A slider or cutter is thrown harder than a curveball. Its break is later, sharper and more lateral than a curveball.
"He needs something sharp, like a cutter, to go away from lefties and hard in on righties,'' Manuel said.
Dubee sounded very different when talking about Hamels' possible cutter last week.
"We'll play that by ear," Dubee said. "If we need to add that, it could be something we add. If something flares up then we might have to back away from it. But he actually threw a few last year, just starting to tinker with it and it never caused a problem."
It wasn't necessarily a vote of confidence in a fourth pitch, but Dubee left the door open. And it's very possible before this spring is over we will be talking about Hamels' cutter again.
Hamels said he worked some on the cutter during the off-season.
"Any time you're able to add something else, that adds another pitch and another possibility to throw at a guy and for them to also now have to realize there's not only two pitches now," Hamels said. "You may be able to throw three or four. You can't really narrow it down as much."
Regardless, there will be a resolution before the season starts. Dubee said Hamels will not try to develop a pitch during the regular season. Should the staff not see enough improvement in the curveball over the coming weeks, the fourth pitch could become a factor.