Hamels is in a rut; it's up to Phillies to free him

Cole Hamels. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

The first line drive, off a fat 92-m.p.h. fastball that was Cole Hamels' fourth pitch Sunday, soared over Domonic Brown's head in right field, a long single for Ichiro Suzuki. The second line drive, by Cole Gillespie, nearly split the left-center-field gap. The third line drive, by Christian Yelich, shot back toward the pitching mound and Hamels' head; he had to duck to avoid it.

Bad pitches all, Hamels said late Sunday afternoon. Bad setups. Bad location. Bad, if predictable, results. The trade deadline is July 31, and three innings into an 8-7 victory over the Miami Marlins, 94 games into a season that been the bus crash everyone (except the Phillies themselves) saw coming, there's finally a cause for irrational panic where the Phillies are concerned. Hamels has had two consecutive terrible starts, the worst back-to-back outings in the 10 years he's pitched here, and this bit of lousy timing is supposed to be draining his trade value, as if the prospect of pitching for a contender has become too great a burden for Hamels to bear, as if he were actually torn about leaving the Phillies.

It's a silly thought, but it's perfect for a franchise that has done so little right over the last few years, that has cultivated a kind of dark fatalism within so many of its followers.

"It looks as if that has an effect on him," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "But the way I look at it is, this guy was a World Series MVP in 2008. He's pitched in two World Series. He's been an outstanding quality starter for many years. I'd like to believe that hasn't affected him. It might have a little bit, but that's no excuse. He's in a little bit of a rut."

Hamels said Sunday that he is completely healthy, that the wreckage of his last two starts - he has given up 20 hits and 14 earned runs over 61/3 innings - is born of nothing more than a failure to get ahead of hitters and make good pitches when he's down in the count. If that's true, if he's just an adjustment or two away from righting himself, then nothing is fouled up here for the Phillies, not yet. Hamels can make his next scheduled start - Saturday, he said, against the Chicago Cubs - and if he pitches the way he usually does, he can assuage all those possible fears from all those prospective trade partners.

"I think my track record speaks for itself," Hamels said. "But I think sometimes you can get yourself in a rut, and you've got to be able to get out and get on a hot streak, and you go for months."


Should the Phillies trade Ben Revere or keep him?

That's what any team that would be looking to acquire Hamels this season is looking for: another hot streak, another stretch like the one he had in that 2008 postseason. Truth be told, the biggest worry here, when it comes to the Phillies trading Hamels, is not Hamels. It's the Phillies. They have a fine line to tread here, and a committee of men with disparate futures with and agendas for the franchise - Pat Gillick, Andy McPhail, Ruben Amaro Jr. - will be doing the treading.

The trade deadline is still almost two weeks away, so the Phillies can wait a little while longer, let Hamels pitch once or even twice more, let the offers marinate, and maybe let the market drive up his price. Understand, though: They should trade him by the end of the month. Really, they have to. The group of starting pitchers who will or could be available in free agency this offseason is so deep and talented - Zack Greinke, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto - that teams will be more reluctant to give up prospects and/or players to get Hamels this winter. And if the Phillies don't deal Hamels before next season begins, then he's just another year older, 32 by then, and still pitching for a bad ball club.

It does the Phillies no good to wait that long, and it likely won't do Hamels any good, either. Maybe the best explanation for his poor performance against the San Francisco Giants on July 10 and the Marlins on Sunday is the simplest: He's tired of waiting. He wants the drama to end. He wants away from this mess.

"It can become an exciting time or, I guess, difficult times for others," he said. "I know being able to play the game of baseball and being able to pitch for this city or for any city, I'm fortunate to be able do so. And I want to do it for as long as I possibly can and help whatever team."

Whatever team, for any city. Yes, Cole Hamels can see the end of his time with the Phillies, and even the ugliness of the last week and a half shouldn't stop him from finding what he seems to be looking for: freedom.