The words of a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame late Saturday added legitimacy to what everyone had just seen Cole Hamels do for the Texas Rangers.
“We had a lot of trouble with his changeup tonight,” said Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor, a 2004 Hall inductee. “I’m not sure how many outs he recorded on that pitch, but it seemed like a ton. I looked up there, and for the majority of the innings he was under 10 pitches.”
Molitor nailed it: Hamels threw only 96 pitches to register a complete game in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory, and the reason for his success was the rediscovery of the pitch that has powered his career.
More starts like that could be coming thanks to a refined changeup.
“The only reason I got to the big leagues was because of the changeup,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable. It’s a lot better pitch. It definitely lights up a scouting report for the other side, but it definitely makes me feel a lot more like I did in 2011, ’12 and ’13 and ’14. That’s when I felt like I was at my strongest in my pitchability.”
Hamels, who hadn’t thrown a complete game since clinching the American League West title on the final day of the 2015 season, never needed more than 16 pitches in an inning. He threw only five in the second and six in the seventh. When he fell behind Byron Buxton to open the eighth, Hamels threw back-to-back changeups to induce a fly out to center field.
The start was the first in his past four that wasn’t interrupted by a bad inning or two. After his last start Monday against Seattle, he dived into video from past seasons to see why his changeup was so ineffective.
Hamels, who posted a 2.99 ERA and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings from 2011-2014, said that it hasn’t been where he likes it since the Rangers acquired him in 2015.
“I’m just trying to get back in a rhythm and get back in a comfort zone,” he said. “Not getting the swings and misses that I know I’m accustomed to. I haven’t really been getting the mishits or soft contact.
“I’ve really just been getting guys laying off it and seeing it right out of my hand and not even committing. That’s a tell-tale sign that they’re noticing something.”