Cubs' Cole Hamels doesn't shut door on possible Phillies return in 1st trip back as a visitor

Cubs' Cole Hamels doesn't shut door on possible Phillies return in 1st trip back as a visitor

Cole Hamels came back to his old baseball home Friday for a completely new experience.

His first time in Citizens Bank Park as a visiting player.

“It’s a little bit different,” said the 2008 World Series MVP, back in Philadelphia with the Chicago Cubs. “I guess I get to finally check that off my list of one of the last visiting clubhouses I’ve been in.”

Hamels, who will turn 35 in December, spent a decade down the hall in the home clubhouse before being dealt to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in July 2015. He was on the move again this July as the Rangers dealt him to the Cubs.

Hamels will not pitch during the three-game series in Philadelphia.

“When I first got traded, after a couple starts it looked like it could possibly happen,” he said. “I was trying to see who I would match up against. To be able to match up against (Jake) Arrieta again or Aaron Nola for probably the first time ever, that would've probably been a pretty good game. But at the same time, sometimes the schedule doesn't permit it to happen.”

Hamels will be visible during the weekend. Because he is still an active player, he was unable to attend the 10-year reunion of the 2008 World Series championship team in early August. You can bet Hamels will be recognized with some type of welcome-back tribute on the video board at some point over the weekend.

“There are so many memories,” he said. “This is a place that I got my start in and it created a lot of who I am today.

“As much appreciation as I have for the city, it's mutual. This is a tremendous place to play. To win here was absolutely amazing. There aren't enough words to describe that sort of experience.”

Hamels was traded in the early stages of a Phillies’ rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The Phillies entered the series against the Cubs three games out of first place in the NL East with a month to play.

Phillies management fortified its playoff chase with several trades in recent weeks. There was speculation that the Phillies could pursue Hamels in a deal, but general manager Matt Klentak made it clear that he wanted to avoid the high price of doing business on the starting-pitching market. Hamels was traded to the Cubs. The Phillies did not add a starter.

Hamels said he did not think about coming back to Philadelphia as the trade deadline approached.

“I think I was trying to figure out how to pitch well,” he said. “I was in a real rut for the better part of the season and especially that last month.”

Hamels had a 10.23 ERA over his final five starts with Texas. He allowed 25 earned runs and 37 hits in 22 innings.

He has been a different guy with the Cubs, going 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA in his first six starts. He has allowed just 28 hits in 39 innings. Maybe it’s a good thing the Phillies are missing him this weekend.

Hamels, of course, pithed a no-hitter against the Cubs in Wrigley Field in his last start for the Phillies in 2015. What turned him around after the trade from Texas?

“Everything really falls back to mechanics,” Hamels said. “If you can square away your mechanics, confidence builds off that and you're able to then get results. I was struggling the whole year trying to find the right type of mechanics and my fastball wasn't really there and nothing else was really playing off that. Just correcting that and the results have kind of come.”

Hamels was drafted as a high school senior by the Phillies in 2002. He grew up in the organization, still does charitable work in the area and has a residence in the area. There has long been a school of thought that Hamels would finish his career in a Phillies uniform. It could happen. He could be a free agent this winter if the Cubs don’t pick up his $20 million club option for 2019. If the Cubs bring him back, he could be a free agent the following winter. You never know.

“This is a tremendous place to play, and if there's opportunities, there's opportunities,” Hamels said. “I won't ever shy away from them. But each and every day, I'm just trying to put up good numbers and still maintain the level of play that I expect out of myself and help whatever team I'm on find a way to win a championship.”

For now, that is the Chicago Cubs.

More on the Phillies

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news


At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies