When he arrived in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse last August, one of the first topics Cole Hamels addressed with the media was the help he could give to some of the club’s young pitchers.
Hamels, who was acquired in a deadline-day trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, was diplomatic with his responses and cautiously pointed to other veterans in the clubhouse, such as Colby Lewis, Yovani Gallardo and Yu Darvish.
Now that he’s in spring training with the Rangers for the first time, however, Hamels’ influence on the staff, young and old, is beginning to take shape.
They are seeing up close and personal what goes into Hamels’ spring regimen, and many are hopping aboard.
That includes watching and learning how to use Hamels’ personal exercise machine he had brought to the Rangers’ spring facility. It’s called SpineForce, and Hamels swears by its ability to build an athlete’s core body strength and balance.
Derek Holland and Chi Chi Gonzalez have both tried it, hoping that whatever has worked for Hamels during his stellar 10-year career will rub off. It’s not only Hamels’ strict workout routine that has pitchers such as Gonzalez impressed, but his coolness under pressure.
“What I take from him is his composure,” said Gonzalez, 24, who made his major league debut in 2015. “He goes out and whoever is at the plate eats them up.”
Hamels’ poise came into focus for Gonzalez on the day the Rangers clinched the American League West title in October.
It was the last day of the season and Hamels pitched a complete game for the win. After forcing the Angels’ David Freese to end the game with a weak groundout to shortstop, Hamels responded as if it was just another one of 27 outs. That is, until catcher Chris Gimenez and the rest of the team rushed him in celebration.
“He threw the pitch and right away he was like, ‘OK, let’s go to the 10th inning. On to the next one,’ ” Gonzalez said. “He wasn’t like, ‘Last pitch, yeah, celebration!’ ”
Hamels’ confidence breeds success, Gonzalez said.
“Every time he gets the ball we know he’s going seven-plus [innings]. I want that mentality too. I want my teammates thinking that about me,” he said.
Hamels may make it look easy sometimes, but his teammates are also seeing how hard he works. He typically throws 50- to 55-pitch bullpen sessions, a rarity this early in spring training. He keeps himself in such good condition during the off-season specifically so that his body can handle the strain.
“I’ve always done that my whole career. When you want to develop a certain sharpness, in order to be precise, you have a certain amount of reps that are successful,” he said.
That means getting enough work in during a session where he feels he needs to be, not when a coach thinks he’s had enough.
“When you’re first coming up they want you to get out because they want the next group in,” he said, referring to his early days with the Phillies. “You try to tell them I don’t have enough reps yet. And they say, ‘it’s a long season.’
But that’s why Hamels keeps himself in such good condition. Now, Hamels’ reputation and stature as a pitcher means the less explaining he has to do.
Not that Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail wants one.
“He’s very regimented, he knows what he’s doing. The nice thing about that is after he throws his one inning you don’t have to worry about whether he can go two,” Brocail said. “He’s already done the buildup. He takes his bullpen sessions very serious.”
Having Hamels, along with veterans such as Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish (notoriously well-conditioned) as an example and guide, is something Brocail relishes.
“The young guys will learn this as they go along,” he said. “Cole starts in an area [of the strike zone] and he sticks to that area and he doesn’t try to hit a gnat in the rear end. So by the end of his pen he can hit the area moving up, down, out, in, with multiple pitches. It’s quality. That’s why Cole is who he is.”
The extensive bullpen work early in spring training, Hamels said, is all about muscle memory.
“I want to be able to hit the zone repetitively. The only way I can do that is to develop the muscle memory and to develop the muscle memory I’ve got to have more pitches,” he said.
Watching veteran Jamie Moyer throw 70-pitch bullpen sessions with the Phillies reinforced Hamels’ resolve.
“That made me even more confident knowing that I was doing the right thing,” he said.
As Moyer did for Hamels, Hamels is doing for young Rangers pitchers.
“Spring training is good because you’re around the guys and you get to know them really well. This is more of a laid-back environment with a lot of in-depth conversations,” he said. “It’s the familiarity of everybody and getting to know their personalities a lot more. As games start I think there will be a little bit more [mentoring]. When we’re in the dugout that’s when the questions and conversations really happen. It’ll be good.”