Some may look at Cole Hamels' line against the Dodgers with a little concern. The 11-year veteran didn’t make it out of the first inning in his spring training debut, giving up a pair of two-run homers and only retiring one of the six hitters he faced in the Rangers’ 12-2 loss.
However, it’s only spring training and the lefty’s mindset may not have been focused on winning like it would be during the regular season. For veteran pitchers like Hamels, it’s about the little things.
Spring training is a chance for pitchers like Hamels to work on throwing specific pitches in certain situations to get a feel for what best works during the regular season. If a certain pitch (in Hamels’ case it was setting up the fastball and curveball) isn’t working correctly, it’s a chance to get it straightened out against big league hitters.
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"I really wanted to work on fastballs, curveballs, changeups," said Hamels. "I would say predominately it was a lot of fastballs and curveballs. That's probably what put me in the bad situation, was not being able to locate the curveballs early and then getting myself into counts where you have to throw fastballs in the general jurisdiction of strikes.”
Another one of those little things is pitching endurance. Pitchers like to get into a groove and these spring training outings allow the vets to adjust to the speed and rhythm of not only the game but also their pitching mechanics. As spring training rolls on, pitchers begin to throw more innings during the game, or at least on the side in simulated games, in order to not only get into rhythm but to also get their body accustomed to a major league schedule.
But much of the concern may lie in the carryover from the end of last season, where Hamels struggled down the stretch despite the Rangers winning their second straight A.L. West division title. He was in the Cy Young Award conversation for most of the season before running into problems but still finished with a 15-5 record while posting a 3.32 ERA along with 200 strikeouts. Hamels was the ALDS Game 1 starter for the Rangers but was shelled by the Blue Jays, allowing six earned runs in just over three innings of work in the 10-1 loss. Toronto won the series in a three-game sweep.
“The year that he was having and then to stub his toe a little bit down the stretch even angered him more to work harder,” said Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
While a rough start in spring training may look disastrous on the stat sheet, veterans like Hamels do not concentrate much on the negative because they are confident all the glitches will be fixed as they get more reps in before Opening Day.
The Rangers could have the best 1-2 punch in baseball with both Hamels and Yu Darvish at the top of the rotation. There’s still work to be done before April arrives but Hamels will likely have all the reps he needs to be ready for the upcoming season.