Any off-day during the course of 162 games is welcomed, but off-days on the road generally aren’t as sweet as those at home.
Sometimes, though, players find themselves in or near their hometowns, or in cities where they once lived or played and still have a home. Such was the case Thursday for Cole Hamels as the Texas Rangers took a day off following a three-game sweep by the Boston Red Sox.
The left-hander still has a home in the Philadelphia area, which is just up the road. He said that he plans to spend the day there ahead of his start Friday at Camden Yards to open a three-game series against the Orioles.
Maybe the comforts of home, or one of his homes, is what he needs to snap out of the funk that has engulfed him at an inopportune time for his team.
The slump hasn’t hurt the last-place Rangers in the standings, but his trade value has sunk and will keep sinking if he continues to struggle.
Hamels has made it clear that his uncertain future ahead of the July 31 trade deadline isn’t distracting him, and he doesn’t want to start pitching better to enhance his trade chances.
He wants to be better because he believes that he is the pitcher he was when the Rangers got him in 2015.
Does he have a handle on it?
“As much as I can,” he said.
That might not be wildly reassuring, but the Rangers continue to receive calls on Hamels during his struggles. He has allowed seven runs in consecutive starts and has an 11.81 ERA in his past three to lift his ERA from 3.41 to 4.28.
Their thinking is that teams know Hamels’ track record and the dependable pitcher he usually is, and it’s their belief that a few good starts could heat up the phone lines.
They also know that they traded Yu Darvish last year after he surrendered 10 runs in his final start before the deadline.
Then there’s this: Hamels was struggling leading up to the 2015 trade deadline, was skipped one turn through the rotation, and tossed a no-hitter in his final start for Philadelphia.
He shut down the rebuilding Chicago Cubs then. He will face the going-nowhere Orioles next, but he has a 1-5 record with a 5.35 ERA in his career against them and is coming off a start in which he recorded only two outs Saturday at Detroit.
“I thought his stuff his last outing was as sharp and crisp as he’s been,” manager Jeff Banister said.
The shortest outing of his career wasn’t all his fault. An error in center field made three of the seven Tigers runs against Hamels unearned, but he also walked two hitters and gave up a pair of loud hits.
Hamels (4-8) has been reviewing video from recent seasons and discovered that his mechanics this year aren’t as consistent as in the past. The result had been having to expend more energy and the loss of his release point as his pitch counts mounted.
He also feels as if he has become too predictable with his pitches later in games.
The mechanics have been ironed out some, and he has had more strength. But with that has come less command of his off-speed pitches, and hitters have made him pay when he has been up in the zone.
“It’s trying to identify my best release point and how I got to the release point,” Hamels said. “It’s been something I’ve been working on. Just refining and refining.”
Hamels hasn’t heard anything new on the trade front. He’s a smart guy and knows the situation. He also knows that he has some leverage in the form of a 20-team no-trade list that will make things tough on the Rangers.
He does not want to be traded.
And the Rangers aren’t just going to trade him to dump his salary. It seems unlikely that they will pick up his $20 million club option for 2019 and will pay him a $6 million buyout. Perhaps Hamels returns for less on a one- or two-year deal.
The Rangers are going to need starters, after all. Reliable starters.
They believe Hamels is more than just reliable, even in light of his recent struggles.
Will another team believe that ahead of the trade deadline? A nice start Friday would help.