In an abrupt about-face of player development style, the Phils have fast-tracked Cole Hamels to the majors and will start him against the Reds Friday, the team announced today. He will replace #5 pitcher, Ryan Madson, in the rotation. Madson returns to the pen from whence he came.
The Phils responded to the much-anticipated news by terminating their nine-game win streak in stupendous style. The Phils fell behind 10-0 tonight and committed three errors before their first hit. Lovely! And they were letting situational lefty, Aaron Fultz, soak up the pointless innings and hefty run totals. They ended up losing 13-4.
Hamels joins a rotation that owns a 5.20 ERA and which has had three members with an ERA over 6.00. Madson of the 6.82 ERA was the logical choice to be displaced from the nest in favor of Hamels.
After spending two years and change in high Single-A (Clearwater) though only pitching 12 games, the former number-one pick started on the fast track to the rotation by moving up to Double-A Reading last year, going 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts, and then promptly prematurely doing himself an injury thereby ending his season. Actually, his back injury happened amid the three starts, but you get the idea.
The quick ascent continued this season. After a slow start in spring training due, again, to the back trouble, Hamels went 1-1 with a 1.77 ERA in four starts. He also collected 29 strikeouts in just 20.1 innings. Next up was Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre where Hamels starts began to become the stuff of the local headlines. In three starts, he went 2-0 with a 0.39 ERA. But that doesn't tell the half of it: Hamels recorded 36 Ks and only one walk in 23 innings. And that was it.
The Phils now feel that Hamels is ready for the majors. I am of two minds on the topic. I applaud the Phils for allowing a pitcher to move quickly to the rotation for the first time since probably Randy Lerch. I get a sense that this is a Pat Gillick-maneuvered move, which also makes me sanguine given his past success in developing pitching in Toronto and Baltimore.
However, this might be a bit too quick. This is a pitcher who has never collected more than 101 innings in any professional season, and that was his first year in short-season Single-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater in '03. Since then, he's thrown 16, 35, and 43.1. That's not a whole lot.
There's some gut reaction I have that this is just too quick. This is a player who didn't throw an inning in spring training and who started in Double-A. The guy seems to have the stuff, but do the Phils need another project in the rotation?
Besides, the timing is bad given that Madson is the man holding the hot potato and must return to the pen. The Phils are still too conservative to go with three rookie starters in the rotation, especially when two of them own 6.00+ ERAs (and I know Madson is not a rookie but is a rookie in the rotation). The also think they are contenders still which limits how much they will experiment with youngsters. If this happened closer to the All-Star break, they could potentially move one of their veteran starters, neither of whom have a future in Philly.
My feelings are similar to how I felt when the signed Jim Thome and David Bell. I knew the contracts were ill-advised and that they would pay dearly for their excesses (and are) at the tail-end of both contracts. But for this team to change gears and actually try a new strategy hey, it only happens once every decade or two. They change managers and players and plans but it's all a series of reactionary moves, not a new strategy altogether. Also, those signings were to held promote their then-impending stadium move. Now, they turn to Hamels again to get the locals excited. Philly had been more excited by the Eagles draft than anything the Phils did, at least until this nine-game win streak.
So I am cautiously optimistic. It will be exciting to see a raw talent with his stuff face major-league batters. I hope his back and his luck hold out. Given the Phils' track record with pitching prospects, I can't imagine the odds are in his favor. However, like the rationale made by Spinal Tap's latest of 36 drummers, all of which had died under mysterious circumstances, one would have to expect that the law of averages would catch up with them at some point.
Lost in this media blitz is another rookie, Carlos Ruiz, who was called up to replace injured starting catcher, Mike Lieberthal. My opinion on Ruiz is that he should be given every opportunity to show that he is a legitimate major-league catcher. Sal Fasano's Fu Manchu be damned! He's now 26, and rather than letting him Johnny Estrada off to another franchise, why not give Ruiz a chance?
The Phils have no other viable options after Lieberthal's contract runs out this season. They may re-sign Lieberthal at less money or go after some other catcher in the free agent market, but my preference is to allow the youngster to take over and spent the Lieberthal Amigo money on a decent starting pitcher. Ruiz probably won't become the next Mike Piazza, but he should be at least as good as Lieberthal next year and will be a heck of a lot cheaper.