A star is (eventually) born.
The Cole Hamels story can help Phillies fans relax about Andrew Painter.
It was Thursday, October 30, 2008. Cole Hamels was having a pretty good week.
On Monday, Hamels held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs over six innings in Game 5 Part 1 of the World Series. On Wednesday, he watched his teammates finish off the Rays as the Phillies were declared the World Champions of Baseball. There would be an epic Halloween parade in Philadelphia on Friday.
And on Thursday, in the middle of it all, Hamels traveled to Manhattan via helicopter to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman wanted the World Series MVP to read the “Top Ten Things That Went Through Cole Hamels’ Mind After Winning the World Series.”
Cole Hollywood Hamels, 24 years old and looking very much like a celebrity, stood on stage and started the countdown.
“10. Maybe I’ll get to be on ‘Dancing With The Stars.’”
“9. Can I wear my cup in the off-season?”
Nowadays it feels like Cole Hamels’ stardom was inevitable. The Phillies selected the 6’ 4” lefty out of high school with the 17th pick in the 2002 MLB Draft, and he made his major league debut for the organization in 2006. 17 years, 2698 innings, 163 wins, and 2560 strikeouts after that debut, it’s hard to imagine a world where Hamels failed to live up to expectations. But early in his career, injuries almost derailed everything.
“8. The Rays collapsed faster than my 401(K) -- Hi-yooo!”
“7. How cool a name is Cole Hamels?”
Hamels suffered a brutal injury to his pitching arm shortly after his sophomore year of high school. He hurt the arm in a pickup football game, then tried to start a summer league baseball game later the same day. In the 4th inning his humerus snapped mid-pitch.
Hamels’ high school pitching coach, Mark Furtak, spoke to Sports Illustrated about the injury in 2009: “It was something I never want to see again. The ball sailed over the backstop, he crumbled to the mound, and his face just went white.” He missed his entire junior season, and it wasn’t clear whether he would ever return to the mound. Said Furtak in a separate interview, “We did bullpens where he didn’t even throw a pitch. He would stand on the mound and just visualize if he ever wanted to throw again.”
“6. This must be how the Yankees used to feel.”
“5. Is the Phillie Phanatic hitting on my wife?”
Hamels recovered, of course. In his senior season, he went 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 71 innings. After the Phillies drafted him, he dominated in 13 starts for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in 2003, going 6-1 with a 0.84 ERA. The club promoted Hamels to the Clearwater Threshers by the end of that season, and he looked to be on a fast track through the minors.
Then… more injuries. Hamels made only four starts in 2004 before experiencing elbow pain and getting shut down. In January 2005, he famously broke his left hand in a fight outside a Clearwater bar. After rehabbing the hand and making his way to AA Reading later in 2005, Hamels experienced back spasms and was shut down yet again. By the time he made it to the major league Phillies in 2006, Hamels officially had a reputation for being injury-prone. “Fragile,” even.
“4. Seriously, how cool a name is Cole Hamels?”
“3. How can I celebrate when the nation’s economic output is the weakest it’s been since the third quarter of 2001?”
Phillies fans were starting to lose faith in the exciting young lefthander. Sure, he was talented, but would he ever be able to stay on the field?
Hamels answered by averaging 208+ innings per season from 2007 through 2016. His ERA was 3.65 or lower in nine of those ten seasons. He was selected to four all-star teams, threw a no-hitter, and pitched in twelve separate postseason series during that timespan.
In October 2008, he went 4-0 in 5 starts with a 1.80 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. Plus one late night talk show appearance.
Hamels was a star.
“2. I hope John McCain will start calling me ‘Cole the Pitcher’”
“1. Now maybe I’ll get to appear on Leno.”
Nearly two decades after making 18 year-old Cole Hamels a first-round draft pick, the Phillies did the same with 18-year old Andrew Painter. Painter’s development has been even more accelerated than Hamels’, and he was expected to compete for a spot in the team’s starting rotation this spring. There doesn’t seem to be much competition for Painter in the minor leagues, where he’s posted a 1.48 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and 13.7 strikeouts per nine over 109.2 innings across four levels.
On March 1, Painter threw two innings in a spring game against the Twins, flashing his 99 mph fastball. “I believe this kid’s going to be a star,” said Twins shortstop (and Mets legend) Carlos Correa. Two days later, however, manager Rob Thomson told reporters that the 6’7” righthander was feeling tenderness in his pitching elbow. The team sent Painter for unspecified tests and, as of March 5, had not disclosed results.
The reaction from fans was… Well, you already know.
It’s undeniably depressing for your team’s top prospect to experience any kind of arm trouble. Let’s keep things in perspective though. The kid is 19 years old and his elbow felt tender after his first spring start. At the same point in Cole Hamels’ career, the lefty was a few years removed from an exploded arm and throwing haymakers at this place. And he ended up just fine.
Painter may or may not end up a World Series MVP on the talk show circuit. He may or may not be a star. But his fate won’t be determined by whatever is going on with his elbow right now. Injuries are a part of the game, and the Phillies seem to be treating the situation with an appropriate level of caution. Regardless of whether he pitches in the majors this season, Painter will likely be significantly younger than Hamels when he debuts.
Deep breaths, ok? We’re playing the long game here.
Tweets of the week.
Here are this week’s top tweets, selected by a panel of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists:
Nick Maton, traded to the Tigers this offseason, faced his old teammates on Friday. Amedeo Grassia clipped the Phillies’ dugout’s reaction when Maton struck out:
The 2006 Phillies went 19-11 (.633) in spring training games. 2009philieseag1 checks in on them here:
Alec Bohm bulked up over the offseason and it’s starting to show. If he develops some power while maintaining his .277 career batting average, we might need to start planning a parade. From Dan Wilson:
Matt Vierling also joined the Tigers this offseason. He went 3/3 with a home run in Friday’s game:
Long live the poop series:
This week in 2008.
Four of the 2008 Phillies’ five starting rotation spots are set, lining up as Myers/Hamels/Moyer/Kendrick. The fifth rotation spot is one of the team’s few true competitions in camp. Adam Eaton, Kris Benson, Travis Blackley, Chad Durbin, and JD Durbin are all in the mix for the role.
Eaton is the front runner, despite his historically awful 6.29 ERA over 161.2 innings in 2007. He’s in the second year of a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the team, which is really the only reason he’s most likely to win the job. Eaton will end up with a spring ERA of 7.41. The other candidates are helping his cause, however, as they’ll leave camp with spring ERAs of 7.27 (Blackley), 4.85 (Chad Durbin), and 11.57 (JD Durbin). Benson hasn’t pitched; he’s recovering from a torn rotator cuff.
Phillie you forgot about.
Mike Mimbs, 3 seasons with the Phils (1995-1997). 12-19, 5.03 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9, 6.1 K/9 in 73 games (37 starts).
Congratulations to twitter handle MaxCowan0 on winning the autographed Andrew Painter baseball. Shoot me a DM to claim the prize.
Some fool is repeatedly impersonating my account and DM’ing people with links to “prize registration” and whatnot. Twitter shut down one of the accounts and is (hopefully) working on the other. Giveaway winners will only be announced here in the newsletter.
This is the section of the newsletter where I make you look at my dogs.
Thanks for reading. Go Phils!
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