Phillies (9-11) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (10-9)

First pitch at 7:05 p.m.

The Phillies haven’t yet won a Cole Hamels start. Their No. 2 starter served 12 earned in 7 1/3 innings in his first starts. The lineup didn’t walk for four days, the first time that’s happened in 93 years. The bullpen has been charged with four losses, and yet that's not the half of how bad they were for a time.

And yet, the Phillies sit just two games under .500.

Just saying.

Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee 2.0?

Maybe not. But Hamels (0-2, 6.46 ERA) should have a win.

He stumbled out of the chute for 13 runs in 10 2/3 in his first two starts vs. the Braves and Royals. But Hamels has tossed back-to-back quality starts since.

He surrendered three runs in seven innings against the Cardinals his last time out, yet left with the no-decision. (Carlos Beltran belted a homer for the go-ahead run off Mike Adams, incidentally, the last earned run the Phillie ‘pen has allowed.) He dealt six innings of one-run ball in Miami his start prior. (Chase Utley erred on that could’ve been inning-ending double play, and Placido Polanco plated the game-winning walk-off run.)

Cosmetics aside, Hamels seems back on track.

His strikeout rate his past two games (26%) matches his career-high for a season. And his stuff is still filthy. The vertical movement on his fastball is second in baseball, meaning, he’s throwing gas straight to batters’ knees.

His recent success is predicated on his fastball usage. He’s thrown heat over 59.1% in each of his last two starts, where he went fastball just 44.4% combined in Games 1 and 2. He’s getting the extras from dipping into his cutter usage, even though opponents have only a .154 batting average on it.

But changing the mix has helped.

Most concerning is Hamels' walk rate, 10% -- and that's from his two good ones. He’s only walked more than 7.1% of batters in a full year once, in 2006, his first year. The problem pitch, it seems, is his cutter, and that’s showed in its erratic game-to-game strike percentage rate.

Hamels in his career has but one smudge against the Pirates: when he served five earned in six innings in July 2009.

He’s gone eight innings in two of the three since, and has allowed only four runs in 23 innings, for a 1.56 ERA. He dealt eight innings of one-run ball his last time against the Pirates, in June 2011, in a no-decision 2-1 team loss.

Pittsburgh’s eight-hole hitter, Clint Barmes (4 for 7) has had the most success against Hamels. Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 12 against him in his career, while Russell Martin and Garrett Jones are a combined 6 for 30 (.200).

The Other Guy

How’s this for a draw for the Phillies: a lefty that gets mashed by lefties.

Pirates starter Jeff Locke (1-1, 5.17 ERA) has a .389/.450/.500 line against lefties this year. If Locke qualified – he doesn’t, for reasons we’re getting to – his left-handed opponent batting average would rank sixth in baseball.

All of the five worst LH opp BAs (Philip Humber, Joe Blanton, Jeremy Hefner, Julio Teheran, Brandon McCarthy) are owned by righties.

Locke’s first real big-league run has been, well, poor in general.

He’s lasted six innings only once, yet surrendered four. He was decent April 13 in Cincy, where he threw five innings of one-run ball and picked up a win. But last Thursday in Atlanta, he was blasted for four earned off three homers in just 4 2/3 innings.

Command is clearly an issue. Locke’s sub-1.00 K/BB ratio is a rare find, and makes for the second worst in baseball among starters (min. 10 IP), to only Jake Westbrook.

Part of the problem is his repertoire: Locke has just three pitches, a fastball, curve and change. His fastball usage rate (63.8%) would rank fourth in baseball among starters.

One slot above him? Lance Lynn, the last guy Phillies lefties should’ve mauled.

Locke has never faced the Phillies, or any current players.

Though something’s telling me to bet against him enjoying a first-timer’s advantage tonight.

Hot and Not

Michael Young has a 13-game hit streak going. He’s hit .333/.395/.435 this year.

Chase Utley is 9 for 25 (.360) in his eight games, started by his pinch-hit solo shot in Game 1 in Cincy. Only two extra-base hits and two walks over the span, though.

Ryan Howard opened the year with the longest homerless drought to start his career, 29 at-bats. It’s been 40 at-bats since, spanning 10 games. He’s batting .359 over the span, though, with just six strikeouts, for a 15.4 percent K%.

Jimmy Rollins is batting .375 in his last six games. He knocked the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, and got plunked in the leg with the bags full to plate a runner earlier.

Dom Brown is 2 for 13 in his last six games. He was hurt (back) for some of it, though.

Ben Revere is hitting .294 with a .412 slugging in the seven-hole since Game 1 vs. St. Louis, after going .194/.242/.194 during his time atop Charlie Manuel’s lineup.


Carlos Ruiz began playing in minor league games today. GM Ruben Amaro said he intends to bring Ruiz up when he’s eligible on April 28, barring a rainout.

Jonathan Pettibone wasn’t the only youngster going strong yesterday: consensus top 100 prospect Jesse Biddle fanned 16 in seven scoreless innings for Double-A Reading yesterday. Had a perfect game going into the seventh, too, but two hit and one walked.