Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hamels Solid in Victory

Opening Day came and went with much fanfare, but mostly went as expected. Roy Halladay dominated and the Phillies won with ease. Then the spotlight fell on Cole Hamels. After a hard luck 2009 that can only have left his confidence shaken, how would he fare in 2010 with a blank slate?

We still don't know the answer, but today's start was somewhat encouraging. Hamels was by no means dominant, allowing two earned runs over five innings, but he showed flashes of brilliance and an ability to battle through some hard luck without blowing the game.

It helped that the Phillies' offense got to work early and often, putting up two runs in the first inning and eventually chasing Washington starter Jason Marquis after tagging him for a total of six runs in four innings. Ryan Howard had the big hit with a monster two-run homer and Hamels even got in on the action with an RBI single in the third.

For his part, Hamels did alright. He started the game with a seemingly ominous four-pitch walk to Washington speedster Nyjer Morgan, but no harm came of it as Hamels recorded three straight easy outs. In the third, he ran into a little trouble, surrendering a solo shot to Ian Desmond, which seemed to unnerve him a bit. After the homer, he walked two straight batters, then allowed an RBI single to Josh Willingham that tied the game at 2-2. Ivan Rodriguez then reached on an infield single, loading the bases, but Hamels was able to escape further harm, when Mike Morse grounded out to end the inning.

Hamels took the lead back in the fourth with his RBI single, but then allowed the Nationals to tie it up again when Morgan (who reached on a Ryan Howard error) scored on a double from Desmond. But the offense had his back, scoring three runs in the fifth (capped by Howard's home run) and Hamels took care of business in the bottom of the inning. By that point he had thrown 103 pitches, so his night was over, but all in all it was a respectable showing.

The bullpen did its share as well. Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings, but Danys Baez struggled a bit, allowing a lead-off triple and a sacrifice fly, then a double, before being pulled for Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo recorded an out and was lifted for Ryan Madson, who struck out Desmond to end the eighth. The Phillies held a 7-4 lead at that point, so the plan was for Madson to pitch the ninth as well.

In the top of the ninth, Howard extended the lead to 8-4 with a double, giving him 3 RBI on the day (five in two games). Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz walked with two outs, leaving Charlie Manuel with a difficult decision: go with a pinch hitter with two outs and the bases loaded, or leave your closer in to hit. Manuel's chose to let Madson hit for himself. Not surprisingly, Madson struck out, but given the circumstances (and the fact that Greg Dobbs and Ross Gload had already been expended), this was probably the right call.

Madson followed his own strikeout by striking out Ryan Zimmerman. But then he ran into a little trouble, surrendering back-to-back singles to Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. However, before Phillies fans had the chance to get too nervous, Ivan Rodriguez grounded into a game-ending double play, giving the Phillies an 8-4 win.

This was not the dominant outing fans would have liked to see from Hamels, but there are some positive signs. This was exactly the type of game that Hamels would have lost last year, as a few walks or sloppy plays in the field put him in a position to potentially fail. Last year, he often buckled in these situations, but today he was able to work out of them and, while his stats on the day won't blow anyone away, he got the job done and started the season on the right foot.

Meanwhile the offense continued its torrid pace from yesterday, working pitch counts and getting on base frequently. The Phillies walked eight times today (17 walks in two games), which is a great sign. It's obviously still very early, but this looks to be an extremely well-constructed and balanced lineup and it's been especially encouraging to see traditionally slow-starters Rollins and Howard getting off to red-hot starts.

It's only the Nationals so it's hard to get too worked up, but thus far Phillies fans have to like what they see.

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