Cole Hamels wasn’t afforded the luxury Saturday that veterans almost always seem to get, the chance to work out in the friendly confines of their spring homes.
Instead, he had to make the long trek from Texas Rangers camp to the East Valley for his Cactus League debut at Scottsdale Stadium.
But it’s spring training, and even a premium left-hander entering his 11th season needs to — wait for it — get in his work.
“Get in my work,” “got his work in,” and other various forms are as much a springtime baseball cliche as a player showing up in “the best shape of my life.” Generally speaking, pitchers are getting in the work that will help them find the form to be competitive by Opening Day.
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Their pitching lines don’t matter, at least not until the end of camp and maybe not even then.
The work Hamels gets in, though, isn’t the same as the work Colby Lewis gets in, and Lewis’ work is different from that of Derek Holland and Martin Perez.
But they believe that whatever work they are doing, even if it’s ugly at times, is the right work for them.
“What it really comes down to is feeling comfortable out there on the mound,” Hamels said. “I think that’s where you want to develop your routine and get your rhythm. When you get that competitive nature that you mix in there, that’s the kind of feedback you want.
“When competition’s at the highest level, there’s a little bit more that goes into every single pitch. You have to make sure that you’re comfortable in doing so and able to repeat it.”
Hamels said that he struggled with his fastball command in allowing one run in 1 1/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants. The run came on a Mac Williamson homer to start the second, and Hamels walked two and struck out one and threw 32 pitches.
Hamels said that he does as much work in his between-starts bullpen sessions, which he extends during spring training to help get down command and muscle memory.
His work each spring begins with his fastball.
“I like to get the home runs out of the way here, too” said Hamels, who has a career spring ERA of 5.02 compared to 3.31 in the regular season.
“That’s where you base all your pitches, off your fastball. I think that’s where I was trying to aim for and had a lot of misses.”
9.75 Colby Lewis’ spring ERA in 2015 in four starts. He won 17 games with a 4.66 ERA during the regular season.
Lewis and Holland weren’t sharp in their debuts either, though they escaped without allowing any runs. Perez will start Sunday in a B game against the Chicago White Sox.
Lewis said that he was fighting his mechanics Wednesday during his two innings against Kansas City. The result was a lack of the pinpoint command that Lewis has when he’s at his best.
But the key for Lewis was that his arm felt fine.
“For me I’m seeing how my arm reacts the next day and how it reacts right then,” he said. “Everything kind of speeds up, so your mechanics and everything else wants to speed up, and you’re just trying to refine it every time you go out.
“The other day my front side was getting quick, and I was jerking the ball. I recognized it and made the adjustment, but for me, it’s getting my timing down and hopefully by the end of spring training you’ve got all that stuff locked in.”
I feel like you want to start to see your body react to playing a little bit harder every time you go out. If you’re making consistent pitches, you’re making the pitches where you want to make your pitches, that’s all I look at.
Colby Lewis on getting his spring work
Holland focuses most on his mechanics during spring starts. He said that his biggest issue during his career is that he hasn’t been able to repeat his delivery and find a consistent tempo.
Within that, Holland tries to make sure his slider, curveball and changeup are sharp and that he can throw them where he wants.
“I’ll feel rushed and then too slow and then off path, and then it’s here we go again,” said Holland, who started Thursday. “It’s just a matter of making sure to get our mechanics where they need to be, and then also just to continue our off-speed every time out there.”
Perez uses bullpen sessions to focus on his mechanics and off-speed pitches. By the time a spring game rolls around, he wants to get the feel for pitching and try to get his competitive juices flowing.
While spring statistics and wins and losses don’t matter, at least not for a pitcher locked into the rotation, Perez treats his outings like a regular-season start as much as he can within the framework of getting in his work.
The Rangers are one of many teams that try to keep their starting pitchers from facing divisional opponents during spring training to limit their exposure. As such, Martin Perez will pitch in a B game Sunday against Chicago rather than face Seattle.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to compete here,” Perez said. “I need to do my work and make my adjustments to be ready for the regular season. In the games, just go and pitch. I need to show people I can pitch.”
By the time spring training ends, starters want to be able to pitch seven innings. They don’t need to shut down their final spring opponent, but they want to see their pitches doing what they’re supposed to do and going where they’re supposed to go.
They have a lot of work to get in between now and then, and then between Opening Day and, if all goes right, an extended playoff run.
“We don’t win the World Series here,” Perez said. “We prepare to win the World Series in October.”