Baseball’s first month rates as the worst statistically for left-hander Cole Hamels, though that might qualify as nitpicking at the career of a four-time All-Star.
He’s mindful of his early-season woes as he puts the finishing touches on this off-season, but more important he was mindful of them last year as he entered his first spring training with the Texas Rangers.
Hamels decided before the 2016 camp opened that he would change his prep work for the regular season. Rather than work on a pitch in his repertoire each week during camp, he went to Arizona having already thrown all of his pitches.
The result was his finest April, 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA, and a conviction that he must do the same each spring. He is on that track again just more than a week before Rangers pitchers and catchers have their first workout at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
“I was able to come into April in much better shape physically and mentally,” Hamels said. “I wasn’t having to hold back. I wasn’t feeling that feeling of unpreparedness.
“I’m going to try to keep that same mentality and same goals and try to structure it the same way I did last year at spring training. This year I’ll just finish up stronger.”
Ask Hamels and he says he throws as many as 10 pitches — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, slider and curveball to both sides of the plate. He wants a feel for the pitches to open camp, at which time he will work on commanding them.
He wasn’t able to do that all the time in April, when he walked 11 batters over four starts en route to a career-high 77 walks in 32 starts. The two runs Seattle scored against Hamels in seven innings on Opening Day came on solo homers after poorly located pitches.
Nevertheless, Hamels improved his career April numbers to 18-17 with a 3.83 ERA and didn’t slow down in the first half — save for two bumpy July starts caused in part by a blister on his index finder.
He says that he didn’t slow down in September or in his one postseason start despite numbers (1-2, 6.97 ERA) that suggest he might have. That finish put a damper on his Cy Young candidacy, but Hamels still went 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA and was selected as the Rangers’ Pitcher of the Year.
When he hops on the mound for the first time early in spring training, he will do so with all his pitches in hand and more than fit enough to eclipse 200 innings for an eighth consecutive season.
“I know once February hits, everything starts to get on a schedule and you slot it so that by April 1, you fit right in to what you need to do by your first game,” Hamels said. “I’ll be excited to get back into Arizona and get to see the guys and get the juices flowing with workouts and get that momentum going.”
Rangers spring training
Feb. 14: Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 21: First full-squad workout