The Dallas Morning News
Hamels pursues career longevity
33-year-old focuses on improved efficiency to remain relevant
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Cole Hamels is one of five active pitchers to have at least five seasons with both 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts.
He’s willing to relinquish one 200 club membership if it helps preserve another.
Now 33 and just past the age that is traditionally considered the outer edge of a player’s prime, Hamels is all about conservation if it helps his selfpreservation. Conserving pitches, which means fewer deep counts and strikeouts, is what he feels will help him extend his career.
“I’m working to try to minimize stressful innings and high-pitch innings,” said Hamels, who will make his second start of the season Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels. “I intend to keep pitching in this league. Teams are looking for guys who can get to 200 innings. I’m aware that the game is changing toward much younger players, but I’d like to maintain my presence in this league. I don’t want to end up
in the shredder.”
With the way last season ended, it could be a possbility sooner rather than later.
A Cy Young candidate at the end of August, Hamels seemed to tire down the stretch. He posted a 6.75 ERA over his final six starts, during which he averaged less than six innings per outing and allowed a .377 opponents OBP.
When the regular season was done, Hamels had 2002⁄3 innings and finished with exactly 200 strikeouts.
Perhaps more significantly, he walked a career-high of 77, the third-highest total in the AL.
He topped it all off with a flop of a start to the AL Division Series in which he failed to make it through the fourth inning.
That set him on his rejuvenation mission. Step one: Be more efficient.
“The walks were unacceptable,” Hamels said. “I needed to take an aggressive approach so that they would swing early. I don’t want to get to deep counts. I want to be more efficient.”
In that regard, his first start of the year was a success. He issued only one walk in six innings against Cleveland’s patient lineup. But he only struck out four. It could be argued the walk was a “good walk.” He pitched around Rangerscrusher Edwin Encarnacion to get to Jose Ramirez in the sixth.
He eventually worked out of the trouble, but the inning included a home run by Francisco Lindor and a plunking of Brandon Guyer. When it was done, he had thrown 28 pitches and pushed his pitch count to 91. A year ago, pitching in the opener, Hamels threw 104 pitches in seven innings. His new reality is that a bit less now may be more later.
This is one of the reasons the Rangers started him in Game 3 of the season, rather than Game 2. If he had started Game 2, he’d have had to come back on the regular four days’ of rest to pitch Sunday against Oakland. Instead, 26-year-old Martin Perez started on four days’ rest Sunday, and Hamels will pitch on five days of rest Tuesday.
There will be plenty of turns on regular rest. Getting Hamels a bit extra here and there may be important to keeping him fresher later.
“You don’t want to throw 105 pitches the first time out,” Hamels said. “I’ll let other pitchers talk about that later in the season. April is still about building. I felt like I was able to do that.”
Hamels can draw on experience in Philadelphia when he was surrounded by a bunch of veterans in their mid-30s, including Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and one in his mid-40s in Jamie Moyer.
“I got some very good teaching there,” Hamels said. “I’m starting to notice and understand why they did what they did. Things are starting to make more sense. There wasn’t long toss every day. They weren’t throwing with max effort every day. Now it is more about recovery than constantly throwing.”
It’s all about getting to 200 innings and staying fresh for potential playoff runs.
If that means he has to give up membership in the 200strikeout club, he’ll gladly turn in his card.