Hamels seeks to change early-season woes

Hamels seeks to change early-season woes

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Cole Hamels has a career 3.31 ERA that, since 1996, ranks 10th among pitchers with at least 1,500 innings pitched. But Hamels has a 3.95 career ERA for the month April, which ranks him 39th on the same list of pitchers.

The 3.95 ERA is his highest for any month, and his early-season struggles have been more pronounced lately. Over the past three seasons, Hamels is 2-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 13 starts in April. That includes 2014, when he started the season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

Hamels is expected to be the Rangers' Opening Day pitcher, and he would like to avoid his trend of early-season blues.

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"I think the intensity," Hamels said. "No matter if I'm pitching a 'B' game or pitching in a Spring Training game, it's the intensity you have to have, and the focus. This year, it's more coming in and trying to grind a little more during Spring Training when I'm actually pitching in the games. I think that comes with throwing the pitches early. In previous springs, I've slowly broken out each pitch every week. This spring, I'm breaking out the pitches right at the beginning."

Hamels was throwing all of his pitches in a Minor League "B" game against Royals farmhands on Tuesday afternoon. But he was having trouble getting the ball inside against right-handers, and that cost him.

"I know it's something I'll be able to do eventually," Hamels said. "I think that's what will be the focus of my [bullpen session]. It's getting comfortable with guys in the box, getting an understanding of where to pick your location and throw. You don't necessarily want to hit guys, but if you're throwing balls over the middle because you're not quite getting in, you're going to have to find that middle ground. I think that's where I'm at."

Some shaky Minor League defense behind him also didn't help. Hamels faced 18 batters in the controlled game, and 10 reached base on six hits, two walks and two errors. He was charged with six runs allowed, but only three were earned because of the errors. Hamels ended up throwing 67 pitches.

30 in 30: Cole Hamels

He did not get an out in the first inning. The leadoff batter reached on an error, then Hamels allowed a broken-bat single, a walk and a three-run homer by Balbino Fuenmayor. A right-handed hitter, Fuenmayor had 17 home runs combined in Double- and Triple-A last year.

The inning was called at that point because of pitch count. Hamels came back to retire eight of the next 11 hitters before two batters reached on a single and an error with two outs in the fourth. Hamels came out of the game, and reliever Joe Filomeno gave up a two-run double. Both runs were charged to Hamels.

Hamels has three more starts before the season opens. If he pitches every fifth day from this point on, he will land on Opening Day against the Mariners on April 4. There is still work to do.

"Being able to throw all of my pitches to every part of the zone, especially offspeed pitches," Hamels said. "Like always, I still need to fine-tune location."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.