LOS ANGELES - Cole Hamels made his first start of the 2014 in the fourth week of the season, yet he still had an opportunity to collect his first win earlier than in 2013.
Although Hamels’ first two starts last season were ugly, he had a 3.24 ERA in his next nine. But he collected only one win over that span, on April 28 in New York.
That was also the only game the Phillies won with Hamels on the mound in the first 2 months of the season.
Other than those first two starts, Hamels’ was hardly the culprit. Instead, it was a lack of offense: The Phillies scored a total of 12 runs during that nine-start span from Hamels’ third start through Memorial Day weekend.
On Wednesday night, Hamels took the mound at Dodger Stadium after battling back from biceps tendinitis this spring. Again, he pitched well enough to give his team a victory.
Again, he received little support. From his offense - and perhaps from his manager, too.
Yasiel Puig’s two-out, run-scoring single to left field in the fifth inning snapped a tie and helped the Dodgers beat Hamels and the Phillies 5-2.
Hamels pitched six strong innings in his season debut, limiting Los Angeles to two runs on six hits while striking out five and walking one. But the Phillies scored just one run with him on the mound on Wednesday.
“He showed real good stuff,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Eighty-six pitches and two runs. He did a nice job.”
A nice job, but perhaps not a complete effort, at least from the perspective of the pitcher and the many people perplexed that a manager would take out a projected Opening Day starter with 86 pitches in a one-run game.
Sandberg, though, thought six innings and 86 pitches was enough for Hamels, who threw 95 pitches 6 days earlier and was said to be under no restrictions for his first start of 2014. The Phillies trailed, 2-1, when Sandberg decided six was enough and replaced Hamels with Jeff Manship, a journeyman pitcher who came to spring training on a minor league contract 2 months ago.
“For the first time out, he did the job there,” said Sandberg, who was pressed on the question more than once. “No, that was good for his first time out. I thought he pitched very well and gave us a chance to win.”
Sandberg turned the game over to the bullpen. And the bullpen gave up three runs in three innings, finishing the night with a 5.64 ERA, the worst bullpen ERA in baseball.
Afterward, Hamels seemed disappointed that he was on a short leash.
“It’s their decision and I have to abide by it,” Hamels said.
Did he still have enough left in the tank, though?
“I was at  pitches - I had plenty in the tank,” Hamels said. “It was [surprising]. I don’t make the decisions. I just have to go out there and pitch, and not really think about, ‘Oh I’ve hit a certain pitch count,’ or ‘This is the pitch count for me.’ It’s just going out there and trying to be competitive and trying to keep the team in the ballgame.”
Still, Hamels wasn’t blame-free from the defeat. The one walk he allowed was to the opposing pitcher with two outs, one batter before Puig’s go-ahead single. After striking out the first two batters of the fifth inning, Hamels gave up a single to Drew Butera, then walked Zack Greinke on five pitches.
“You can’t walk the pitcher,” Hamels said. “I understand Greinke is a good hitter, but you have to let him hit his way on. You can never walk the pitcher. And that decided the ballgame. It set up what transpired over the next inning … it racked up the pitch count.”
The next hitter was Puig. After striking out in each of his first two trips to the plate against Hamels, Puig didn’t waste any tie in his third at-bat. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball and deposited it into the open grass in front of Domonic Brown in leftfield, bringing home Butera with the go-ahead run.
“Yeah, that was not being smart,” Hamels said. “He was swinging from the very first pitch, since, shoot, last week. I threw a strike and he hit it in a hole. Sometimes you have to be a little bit more intelligent to the fact that he’s going to be aggressive here, and not throw a pitch on the inner half.”
Greinke, who matched Hamels on the mound, wasn’t finished at the plate, either. A former high school shortstop the Phillies scouted and considered drafting 12 years ago, when they chose Hamels later in the first round, Greinke crushed a two-out double in the seventh inning off Manship.
Puig followed by hitting a triple to the rightfield wall, over Marlon Byrd’s head, to bring Greinke home with the Dodgers’ third run. Hanley Ramirez led off the eighth with a home run off Mario Hollands, one of two insurance runs the Dodgers tacked on in the inning.
When the night was over in Chavez Ravine, the Phillies had as many hits (five) as the Dodgers had runs.
Greinke (4-0, 2.45 ERA) retired eight in a row to begin the night. He held the Phillies to one run on three hits in his first five innings, when he also struck out nine of the 18 batters he faced.
Greinke finished the night with 11 strikeouts, while walking only one. He allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings.
Greinke’s night was over after pinch hitter Jayson Nix ripped a home run to lead off the eighth. Nix entered the night 4-for-26 (.154) and without an extra-base hit in nine games.
That his home run was a highlight was an indictment of the rest of the Phillies’ offense.
Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each tried to ignite the lineup. Rollins led off the fourth with a double and scored after Utley moved him to third and Howard drove him in; Utley hit a two-out double two innings later, but was stranded.
The remaining five hitters in the starting lineup - Ben Revere, Byrd, Brown, Carlos Ruiz and Freddy Galvis - were a combined 0-for-17 with 10 strikeouts.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21