Hamels leads Cubs to W with 10 Ks, 8 scoreless

Lefty increases fastball usage to quiet rivals for second straight outing

June 8th, 2019

CHICAGO -- There could be a debate over who has the advantage when a pitcher faces a team in consecutive starts. The pitcher can study what worked and what went wrong and adjust accordingly. The hitters can do the same and perhaps be better prepared for the second meeting.

On Friday afternoon, Cubs lefty was tasked with taking on the rival Cardinals for the second time in a six-day span. He handcuffed St. Louis' lineup in a hard-luck loss on Sunday at Busch Stadium, and he did so again in leading Chicago to a 3-1 victory this time around at Wrigley Field.

"You just try to keep the same approach," Hamels said.

Consider that a dose of coyness from the veteran left-hander, who took a different path through both sets of plate appearances against the Cardinals' offense. The end result may have been similar -- zero earned runs on his pitching line -- but the approach was not the same. The version of Hamels that St. Louis saw on Friday was fastball-heavy with swing-and-miss stuff.

Overall, Hamels ended with 10 strikeouts, three hits scattered and one walk issued over eight scoreless innings. It marked the first time that the veteran lefty finished with a double-digit strikeout showing and no more than one free pass since July 28, 2016. Hamels had not hit those marks with at least eight shutout frames since June 11, 2014.

The win also ensured that the Cubs will remain in first place in the National League Central.

"Some days you have to say, 'Man, that's some pitching right there,'" Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "He was really good at our place last Sunday. That's as good as anyone has thrown against us all year. He was in control, command of everything, changeup, put it where he wanted to. He had all his ingredients working."

On Sunday, when Hamels was outdueled by veteran and his 126-pitch gem, the Cubs lefty threw more changeups (31.1 percent of 84 pitches) than anything else. He mixed in the four-seam fastball 15 times (19 percent). Hamels turned the tables on Friday, going with his four-seamer 44.4 percent of the time in his 99-pitch outing. He dropped the changeup rate to 22.2 percent.

Part of that was surely to give the Cardinals' batters different looks, but it was also to get into pitcher-friendly counts as swiftly as possible. To that end, Hamels went with fastballs (all types) on 81.5 percent of his first pitches on Friday -- up from 65.2 percent on Sunday. The lefty did not shy away from early-count offspeed pitches last time, but saved the bulk of those for put-away counts in this second meeting.

"I know if I can establish a fastball," Hamels explained, "everything else plays off of it and it makes my other three pitches that much better. That's what I was really striving to do last game and this game, really establishing the four-seam fastball."

On 1-1 counts, Hamels split the difference between four-seamers and changeups. When he got to 1-2, pitches with break out-numbered fastballs again. Of the 10 strikeouts on the afternoon, five came via curves and changeups, while five came courtesy of fastballs.

"Did you notice the counts?" Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The first three or four innings, it seemed like everything was 1-2. Great command of his changeup. Fastball was hotter. I saw more 92 [mph pitches] and 93 [mph pitches] consistently today. So hotter fastball, total command of his changeup and much better counts. So when you get to that point, hitters just can't relax and sit on things. He was unpredictable and very accurate.

Hamels also noted that the game situation influenced the altered approach with his arsenal.

On Sunday, Hamels was locked in a low-scoring duel with Wainwright where one mistake might cost the Cubs the game. He wanted to throw more breaking balls and offspeed offerings under those circumstances. When spotted Hamels a 2-0 lead with a two-run homer in the first inning on Friday, Hamels felt a little more comfortable being aggressive with his heater.

There was another factor to consider on Friday.

"When you have the wind blowing in," Hamels said, "that kind of favors different pitches."

The first batter of the game, , drilled a pitch to deep center with a 101.3-mph exit velocity and 32-degree launch angle. According to Statcast, that combination results in a home run 52.1 percent of the time, but the wind at Wrigley can often carry that kind of deep fly out. This was "the other version of Wrigley," as Maddon joked after the game.

Hamels yelled in anger on the mound as the ball soared to center and even asked home-plate umpire Mark Carlson for a new baseball. That was before the wind blowing straight in off Lake Michigan knocked the ball down and center fielder made the catch.

"I think everybody in the park thought it was out," Fowler said.

That let Hamels know that he could be a little more liberal with fastballs in the zone.

"You can be a little bit more free and easy and throw it down the middle," Hamels said. "Everything kind of felt really loose. I was just able to really ride the fastballs. Changeups were able to kind of do what they’re normally supposed to do, and the other couple offspeed pitches were able to just stay within range of what I know is comfortable for getting guys out."

Now, Hamels and the Cardinals will do their prep work for next time.