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Hamels falters in Philly after warm welcome

Lefty allows 8 runs over 2-plus innings in return to former home park
@paul_casella
August 15, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels returned to the Citizens Bank Park mound Wednesday for the first time since being traded from the Phillies in 2015. The Philadelphia faithful welcomed back the '08 World Series MVP with a trio of standing ovations -- one when he first took the rubber,

PHILADELPHIA -- Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels returned to the Citizens Bank Park mound Wednesday for the first time since being traded from the Phillies in 2015. The Philadelphia faithful welcomed back the '08 World Series MVP with a trio of standing ovations -- one when he first took the rubber, another when he stepped to the plate in the top of the third and finally when Cubs skipper Joe Maddon took the ball from Hamels to end the southpaw's night.

Unfortunately, that last one came much earlier in the evening than Hamels could have anticipated. In the one hour between his first and final ovations, Hamels was tagged for eight runs in just two-plus innings en route to an 11-1 loss to the Phillies.

Box score

In just his third start since returning from the left oblique strain that sidelined him for more than a month, Hamels' velocity was down throughout the night. His four-seam fastball averaged 90.7 mph, down from his season average of 91.6 mph, while his cutter and two-seamer both sat more than 1 mph slower.

Both Hamels and Maddon said the issue was strictly mechanical.

"He's healthy," Maddon said. "My perspective, delivery-wise, he's really off. ... But he is healthy, and I do anticipate you're going to see much better performances."

Hamels, who spent 9 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia after being selected by the Phils in the first round of the 2002 Draft, is the all-time wins leader at Citizens Bank Park, which opened in '04. Instead of adding to that record total, the lefty turned in an outing unlike any of the 308 he made in a Phillies uniform.

He allowed eight earned runs twice during his time in Philadelphia, but neither of those outings were as brief as this one. Wednesday marked the first time in Hamels' 14-year career that he allowed at least eight earned runs without recording an out beyond the second inning.

This was also the second straight start in which Hamels did not pitch into the fourth. After tossing five scoreless frames in his Aug. 3 return from a strained left oblique, Hamels has now allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in just five innings over his past two outings.

"You can't keep putting up games like I've done the last two games," Hamels said. That's not the person that I am, and those aren't the expectations that I hold on myself. The game of baseball is fickle, and you just have to constantly make adjustments and constantly try to be better."

The Phillies took full advantage of Hamels' struggles. Seven of the 12 balls put in play against Hamels -- not including a bunt single -- had an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, the Statcast threshold for a hard-hit ball. That included a 97.6 mph RBI single off the bat of Phillies ace Aaron Nola in the second inning. The other six hard-hit balls each registered 100 mph or greater off the bat.

Hamels allowed a towering two-run homer to Bryce Harper in the first. He then yielded two more runs in the second, including the RBI knock to Nola, who entered the game with a .063 career average.

On the opposite end, Nola stifled Chicago's offense over seven innings, holding the Cubs to Kris Bryant's mammoth home run -- projected to travel 445 feet by Statcast -- in the seventh.

Hamels received his second standing ovation when he stepped to the plate in the third inning. Nola stepped off the back of the mound to let Hamels soak it in. Hamels eventually gestured to the crowd in appreciation before stepping into the box.

"Honestly, I just gave up four runs, so I’m thankful for the fans for their support, but when you just got your butt kicked for two straight innings, I was a little bit focused on that," Hamels said. "I tried to give them the best salute I could at the moment, but I wished it had been a better situation."

The final ovation came after Hamels served up four consecutive hits to start the bottom of the frame. Maddon went to the bullpen with runners on the corners, nobody out and Chicago trailing 6-0, but the night quickly got even worse for Hamels and the Cubs. Right-hander Alec Mills promptly walked Nola on four pitches before serving up a grand slam two batters later, extending the deficit to 10-0 and officially closing the book on one of the worst pitching lines of Hamels' career.

"It's just understanding why I'm getting these types of results out there, why the pitches are coming out the way that they are, and then just really correcting it," Hamels said. "Things just don't feel right. It's just getting back to the right type of extension and release point, and everything will kind of follow."

Hamels' disappointing return to Philadelphia, coupled with the Cardinals' win in Kansas City, dropped the Cubs percentage points below St. Louis in the National League Central. As it stands, the Cubs are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers and two ahead of the Phillies for the second NL Wild Card spot.

"I just think he needs time," Maddon said. "I know we don't have a lot of time left, but we do have time. I'm betting on the guy -- I bet on Cole all the time."

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.