In 2008, Cole Hamels was everyone's darling. He lit the world on fire and went on to win the World Series MVP award. He was the "cat's meow" and he was only 24.
The phenom was looking for a breakout year in 2009, and many fans thought it was coming from the left-hander going into his fourth full year with the club.
The breakout year not only didn’t happen, it was Hamels' worst year as a pro and resulted in many people questioning his dedication to pitching.
No one mentioned Hamels' offseason training in 2008, and no one really cared.
But as the 2009 season went on and Hamels' ERA was getting higher and higher, the skeptics started to come out of the woodwork. I will fully admit that I was one of them and even wrote an article criticizing Hamels left and right.
While I still have a lot of problems with Hamels' attitude, I decided to turn the page in 2010 and start a new chapter for a new season.
It really impressed me when I heard the reports come out of Clearwater regarding Hamels' offseason regimen. He was embarrassed in 2009 and realized it, but instead of sulking over his bad season, he is looking to make sure there isn’t a repeat performance of the 2009 he would like to forget.
Instead of resting his arm in the offseason like he did in 2008, he decided to go out and throw a lot to keep his arm in shape.
He not only came into camp in the best shape of his life but also looked to add a cutter to his pitching repertoire that includes a low 90's fastball, a curve that is either on or off, and his best pitch, the changeup.
I feel like Hamels really grew this past offseason, and because of it he really gained my respect.
This past Wednesday, Hamels had his season debut against the Washington Nationals and pitched pretty well. If you were to look at a quick box score, you would think that the outing was less than desirable. Hamels went 5 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K while picking up his first win of the season.
While it wasn’t the start everyone was expecting, I was impressed.
If anyone watched the game, Hamels didn’t pitch nearly as badly as his stat line implies.
Most of the pitches that were called a ball were so close they could have gone either way. The ump had a strike zone that was smaller than the Mets' chance of winning the World Series, and I think anyone who watched the game would agree.
I believe it was Todd McCarthy that made the statement, "Pitchers are just going to have to throw it right over the strike zone tonight to get a strike," and he was right for most of the night.
Hamels walked four batters, and he only did that a few times last season. If the strike zone had been a little bit bigger, Hamels' night would have been possibly seven IP with more strikeouts and a lot less walks.
One telling sign from Hamels' start was how he reacted to Ian Desmond's HR, and it wasn’t what I was looking for. After giving up the HR, he immediately got into trouble with giving up a walk and then a base hit to Josh Willingham.
In my mind it was his only real flaw of the night, something he still needs to work on.
Most people aren't pleased with Hamels' first start, but I really think it was a good one, and I think we’re going to get a much better look at what we are going to get in 2010 when Hamels takes on Washington next Monday.