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VER -- With Opening Day starter Roy Halladay missing over six weeks of the season, Cole Hamels has found the mantel of staff ace on the Phillies suits him to a tee. The next two weeks, however, will determine whether Hamels stays in Philadelphia or is dealt in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The 28-year-old southpaw and former No. 1 draft pick for the Phillies is heading into his free agency season, and there is no shortage of trade talk swirling around Hamels in anticipation of the 39-51 Phillies ending the month as sellers.
"I feel good about it, but we'll see," manager Charlie Manuel said of the likelihood that Hamels will still be on the Phillies come Aug. 1. "I know the Phillies want to keep him, and I know in a lot of ways he wants to stay. But you only become a free agent every so often. Nowadays, guys, they like to go out on the market. We'll see."
Hamels has seemed immune to the distraction and pressure, getting better and better as the Deadline comes closer. In his last five starts he's allowed two runs in eight innings June 19 against the Rockies, threw seven shutout innings against the Rays on June 24, tossed seven innings of three-run ball in Miami June 30, gave up four runs over seven innings in New York on July 5th, and pitched eight innings at Coors Field Sunday holding the explosive Rockies to a lone late run.
"I'm not thinking about it," Hamels said after beating the Rockies and securing the Phillies' first series win in nearly a month. "I get to control my own destiny. That's the least of my worries. If I stay healthy and I'm able to pitch, I know I'll be able to do well and I'll do it for a really long time, and everything else will eventually fall into place."
Hamels improved to a career 85-58 record and a 3.36 ERA Sunday, continuing to raise the stakes for any club that wants to snatch him from the only club he's ever known. He takes his success, and the rumors it generates, in stride, determined to control his fate as surely as he controls his cutter.
"Ever since you get drafted, when you're that kind of top prospect and you have that sort of profile put on you, you learn to play with the attention and the positives and negatives that come with it," Hamels explained. "You just go out and play. I've had quite a few years of learning how to do that."
It isn't always so easy to block out the distraction of Trade Deadline talks, particularly when you've got Hamels' 11-4 record and 3.07 ERA on a team 14 games out of first. Hunter Pence went through it in 2011, ultimately coming to the Phillies from the Astros for four players on July 29.
"From the outside looking in, I didn't think [the trade talk] would make a difference, but it does," Pence said. "To each person and personality it's going to be different. It seems like Cole's focused and able to block it out and do great. Hopefully he doesn't have to deal with it too much and we turn this around."
The Phillies are confident they can use the next two weeks to show their ability to compete and keep the team together, and in the eyes of Hamel's manager, the ability to perform under pressure is what makes him a keeper.
"That's why he's good," Manuel said of Hamel's ability to focus and execute in any circumstance. "If you can't handle it, what the hell? If you can't handle stuff at big moments of the game, what happens? We gonna lose. That's what a professional is supposed to be: a front-line professional player."