Only 23, Cole Hamels is one of the most promising young left-handers in baseball and will likely be a key factor in the Phillies' pennant aspirations over the next few seasons. The San Diego native was drafted 17th overall in June 2002 and reached the Majors in May 2006. Hamels finished his first big-league season 9-8 with a 4.08 ERA and 145 strikeouts over 132 1/3 innings and began the 2007 season in the Phillies' rotation. He recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Is it more difficult to get through a start in which you don't have your best fastball or one in which you don't have your changeup?
Hamels: Deception is everything for me, so it would definitely be more difficult for me to do without my changeup. I'd have to bear down more and hope our team scores a lot of runs because I'm definitely not going to throw a shutout on a day when I don't have my changeup working for me.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How has Trevor Hoffman influenced your changeup?
Hamels: Being able to watch Trevor Hoffman, I learned early on that deception is a pitcher's best weapon. Watching Trevor, I learned the importance of keeping hitters off balance with varying speeds. You keep hitters honest with an offspeed pitch. That way they can't cheat as much on your fastball. It pays to have a good fastball, of course, but at this level, anyone can time a 100 mph fastball if they know it's coming and you give them enough reps.
Living in San Diego and watching Trevor come into the game with "Hell's Bells" blaring on the sound system and seeing the success he had with an offspeed pitch stuck with me. It made me realize that I needed to develop that kind of deception if I was going to realize my dream and pitch effectively. The competition level in San Diego has always been pretty steep. There were always plenty of good hitters to compete against, so it became even more important for me to develop another pitch. For me, it was the changeup.
MLBPLAYERS.com: When did you start throwing your changeup?
Hamels: I started using it in high school. Our school, Rancho Bernardo, had one of the best baseball teams in the country all four years I was there. In fact, we were No. 1 in the nation, so we had a lot more spotlight on our program than your typical high school. That environment fueled the competition and everyone felt a need to bring a little something more to the table. So I started messing with the changeup at the end of my freshman year. I made the varsity team as a sophomore and began using it. That experience of using it in game situations against pretty competitive players helped me advance with it.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You severely broke your throwing arm (humerus) when you were a sophomore in high school and didn't pitch at all your junior year. Is it true you were told that you'd never pitch again?
Hamels: The doctor I had was the Padres' doctor, Dr. Jan Fronek. He had never seen an injury like that one and the three or so people who did have that injury weren't able to play anymore, so he told me that I might as well go ahead and find another position because it was more than likely that I wouldn't be able to pitch anymore. I took that information as motivation. It gave me something to prove. The injury happened in the summer of my sophomore year and I was able to begin pitching again by the summer of my junior year. They didn't let me pitch during the season in my junior year, but they let me play outfield and hit to keep me in a baseball frame of mind.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You haven't spent a full season in the Majors yet, and already you're a legend. It says on the Internet that you put your pants on two legs at a time and that Superman wears Cole Hamels pajamas to bed. How did you get so popular?
Hamels: (Laughing) First, I hope Superman does sleep in Cole Hamels pajamas! That Web site you're referring to -- colehamelsfacts.com -- is pretty funny. I've seen it and laughed. It's pretty flattering, really. People are having some fun with it so I don't mind at all. Everyone needs a good laugh. Now I need to go out and perform so well that the legend can build and people will have some more good facts to contribute. It's fun and it's not mean-spirited, so I enjoy it and try to have some fun with it, too.
MLBPLAYERS.com: On a more serious note, were you satisfied with the way you performed in the Majors last season? You pitched more than 180 innings -- easily a career high. What did you learn from that experience?
Hamels: The key was getting a feel for what it's like to pitch in the Major Leagues. You want to understand what it's like. Everybody talks about it, but it's totally different to experience the ups and downs, successes and failures that come with pitching at this level. Even the Roger Clemenses, the Tom Glavines and the John Smoltzes have bad days. They lose games and they're not perfect, either. I learned that how you react to those successes and failures is tremendously important. You need to be able to respond.
The beginning of last season was difficult. I had a losing record. But I was able to overcome that start and learn from the mistakes I made. After that, I felt I was better able to capitalize on good opportunities. Eventually, the team was winning and I was learning. I felt like I accomplished a lot last year. Maybe the biggest thing I took away from my first year is that you have to make your adjustments quickly. You are going to make mistakes, but you have to have the mind-set that you aren't going to repeat them. If I make a mistake in a guy's first at-bat and he gets a hit, I'm more determined not to make that mistake again. You can't wait for the next game, you need to make the correction on the next pitch or the next at-bat. It only takes one bad pitch for me. I try to learn the game of baseball moment to moment.
MLBPLAYERS.com: In past offseasons, you've worked out with other Major Leaguers in the San Diego area. Did you work out with the same group this offseason?
Hamels: I wasn't able to this offseason because I got married. I was in Philadelphia most of the offseason and bought a house. So between getting married, fixing the house up and getting settled we were pretty busy. My wife, Heidi, did most of the work, but I helped as much as I could. But I do go back to San Diego as much as I can. I like to get back and work out with Mark Prior when I get the chance, but circumstances made it more difficult this offseason. The marriage is working out well, though. I'm the same person still. We went into our relationship as friends and we developed that bond first. So I feel like we're building our marriage on a strong foundation. It's not like very much changes when you get married. We're pretty open people. We both like to get issues out on the table. If we have a disagreement about something, we talk about it and don't let it sit there for days and days. But we're enjoying our marriage. Obviously, we don't have any kids yet, but we do have a dog that we're trying to raise the right way.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You strike out a lot of batters. Would you be content if you struck out fewer batters and threw fewer pitches, or do you need to be a strikeout pitcher to be effective?
Hamels: I like strikeouts. That's what I go for. At the end of the game, I can usually count how many times I should have had a strikeout. I think it's fun and gets the adrenaline going. It brings excitement for the fans, too.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How do you prepare for your next start?
Hamels: I treat every start pretty much the same. Obviously, each team is different and you're going to deal with different hitters, but I try to prepare for myself and let my opponents prepare for me. I don't sit around watching video of opposing hitters, but I do watch video of my previous starts to see where I need to improve. I don't think about the opponents until before the game when we go over the lineup to see how many right-handed batters they have, how many left-handed batters they have and how many fast baserunners they have. I'd rather have hitters adjust for me.
MLBPLAYERS.com is the official Web site of the Major League Baseball Players Association. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.