Cole Hamels sat at his locker after last night's 5-2 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles and couldn't figure it out.
Hamels was pulled after throwing just 86 pitches in six innings of work and his team down 2-1. It was his first start of the season after falling about a month behind schedule in spring training thanks to a sore shoulder. And while manager Ryne Sandberg said there would be "no restrictions" on Hamels before last night's game, the manager decided to pull the trigger early on Cole, and turned the game over to the worst bullpen in baseball.
"Well," Sandberg said, "no restrictions, but also for the first time out, he did his job right there."
Apparently, Sandberg's definition of "restrictions" differs from mine.
Hamels did do his job well, although giving up a hit to the 8-hole hitter and walking pitcher Zach Grienke, which set up a Yasiel Puig RBI single that gave L.A. a one-run lead, certainly didn't help. But, with "no restrictions," just 86 pitches thrown and a bullpen that no one has any confidence in waiting in the wings, it was surprising to see Sandberg take Cole out of the game.
Clearly, Hamels was mystified as well (quotes per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury).
"I had plenty left in the tank," Hamels said. "But I don’t make the decisions. I just have to go out there and pitch and try to be competitive and keep the team in the ballgame.
"They make the decision. They have a scheme, a plan of what they want to do and all I can do is go out there one pitch at a time and see how far I can go, how far they’ll let me."
Hamels said he could have gone another 20 or 30 pitches if they would have let him.
"I’ve been good to go for the last month. I was able to go up to 100, 105. But that’s their decision and I have to abide by it."
Hamels has every right to wonder what was going on. It's understandable that he'd be a bit perturbed at being pulled when he did. That's what you'd expect out of a competitor like Hamels, and you wouldn't want it any other way.
But here's the deal. The Phils are going to treat Cole with kid gloves right now. They have at least $112.5 million wrapped up in that lanky left arm of his, and shoulder injuries are a red flag for a pitcher who just turned 30.
Not only that, consider the rash of Tommy John surgeries permeating Major League Baseball right now. It's an epidemic. Pitchers are tearing ligaments at an alarming rate, and the Phils clearly don't want to lose Hamels for a year and a half when he's presumably at the peak of his career.
It sucks the Phils lost a game they might have been able to win had they kept Hamels in the game. But the season is a marathon. This is just one of what the Phils hope will be about 28-30 starts this year for Hamels, which is why Sandberg may have been reluctant to jack his pitch count up into the triple digits in his first start of the season, coming off a sore shoulder.
More curious than removing Hamels after the sixth is the actual relievers he used in the last three innings of the ballgame. Why not go to Mike Adams in the eighth inning against the right-handed heart of the Dodgers' order, instead of left-hander Mario Hollands, who allowed two runs in that frame to put the game out of reach?
"Well, if we could have gotten through the seventh a little better that would have made a difference," Sandberg said. "But in a minus situation, Hollands has had success against right-handers and left-handers and that was his job tonight."
It's true that in 19 plate appearances against right-handed hitters this year, Hollands has given up just four hits and one walk. But we're talking about 19 PAs. He's an inexperienced pitcher, a late addition to the roster at the end of spring training, who had never pitched above AA before now.
Meanwhile, you've got your veteran set-up man, who is now back and healthy, earning $7 million this year, sitting on his hands in the 'pen.
It didn't make sense.
What made more sense was the decision to pull Hamels. Sandberg was probably being overly cautious, but it's easy to understand why he did what he did. If the Phils have any hope of competing for a playoff spot this year, they need Hamels to be healthy for the whole season.
That, and the money thing. It's kind of a big deal.