Hamels learned value of between-starts preparation

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"I realized talent can only take you so far," said Cole Hamels of his revamped routine in between starts. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

It came in the stifling St. Louis heat, everything Cole Hamels had worked for.

Players and coaches still talk about that game on July 22, 2010, and not just because it was the turning point for the Phillies, a chaotic day that ended in Philadelphia with the late-night firing of hitting coach Milt Thompson.

No, what the Phillies remember about that day is Hamels one-hitting the Cardinals for eight innings with a fastball constantly clocked at 95 and 96 m.p.h. and a temperature that matched it.

Here it was, the product of maturation between starts. It was something Hamels decided he needed to embrace near the end of a vexing 2009 season because, as he says, "I was trying to push through all the crap."

Before, Hamels would take his fourth day off to rest before pitching the next day. He never took written notes on opposing batters. He would not sit down with catcher Carlos Ruiz a few hours before starts to discuss a plan of attack.

"I realized talent can only take you so far," Hamels said.

And this is when you realize that Hamels is 27. He's the youngest of the Four Aces. He made his major-league debut at 22 and was a World Series MVP at 24.

He is still learning.

"When you see guys that are so talented and working hard every day, you have that guilt," Hamels said. "Did I work as hard as I could today? I think that makes you want to work out harder."

Jamie Moyer provided the best cues, or better yet, embarrassment. "Having a guy," Hamels said, "that's basically twice your age outworking you, you don't want that happening."

The fourth day between starts became another day for more shoulder exercises.

Hamels bought a notebook at the behest of Moyer. He saw Roy Halladay's meticulous notes and created his own system. The meetings with Ruiz became regular.

His four days between starts became harder work than when he took the ball on the mound - a fundamental principle of Halladay's preparation.

"That's why I was able to do so much and be in games where it was 100-something degrees," Hamels said. "I'm not used to doing that in California. I was able to fight through it and focus so it doesn't bother you because you're so prepared. You're confident."

Much was made of Hamels' winter workouts after the 2009 season. He changed his program from the year before, when he could bask in the glory of a championship and throwing wasn't viewed as imperative because of 262 1/3 innings logged from April to November.

More important, Hamels carried his new philosophy from the winter into the 2010 season. That, he says, is why his mental and physical preparation changed the most.

"It was thinking you deserve a day off," he said. "And now I figure, 'No I don't.' I can take the day off in the offseason. Sometimes I don't necessarily do that because I'm like, 'What do I have to lose?' I feel better after I work out. I almost feel guilty if I give myself a day off."

The first day after a start is Hamels' toughest. He'll run for close to an hour, do a 40-minute shoulder exercise, and finish with a leg routine. This year, he's using a 25-minute timed circuit developed by Dong Lien, the team's strength and conditioning coordinator.

Then he'll watch video of his performance from the night before and jot down notes. Hamels said he's always watched video - "I'm a very visual guy" - but he never took notes before the end of 2009.

Day two is the bullpen session and an upper-body workout. Hamels will watch video of his next opponent for the first time. Days three and four are more cardio, leg exercises, and the shoulder routine.

"Last year, I never got tired of it," Hamels said. "I think it really helped me. I think it put me a step above mentally because I didn't give in or give myself a day off. I just kept battling. I felt like that really made me grind out a lot more."

It worked. In 2010, hitters had a lower on-base-plus-slugging percentage against Hamels when his pitch count was 76 or higher than any other time in the game.

Observers saw an improved Hamels, able to contain his composure in crucial situations. Where it started was in the work between starts that no one sees.

"It becomes so monotonous," Hamels said, "but the moment I walk in, I know exactly what I have to do. I know how long it's going to take me. I do it. It's over with. I don't short myself."

 


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb.