PHILDELPHIA -- The Cole Hamels who is slated to face the Yankees on Saturday night at 7:57 ET at Citizens Bank Park in Game 3 of the World Series on FOX is not the same Cole Hamels who was named MVP of last fall's National League Championship Series and World Series.
The current best-of-seven Fall Classic is tied at a game each after the Yanks won Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, 3-1, on Thursday night. Hamels, who is slated to face fellow left-hander Andy Pettitte, has struggled with his control and location since he suffered soreness in his left elbow during Spring Training. That begs the question whether he is completely healthy at this point in the postseason.
"I actually feel great right now," Hamels said after Friday's off-day workout at the Bank. "I've only throw 200-something innings [actually 208 1/3, including the postseason], so I feel great. Last year was definitely a big workload, but I didn't notice it. I just went out there and pitched, and enjoyed it. Then I got into the offseason and didn't really know what to do.
"You get a little paranoid -- 'Should I throw? Should I take time off?' It throws you off your normal schedule of whatever your throwing program is. You played an extra month, and if you haven't done that before -- which most of us hadn't done in this organization -- you don't know how to treat it."
Loves to face: Jayson Werth, 1-for-13, 5K. Hates to face: Carlos Ruiz, 2-for-3, HR.
Loves to face: Alex Rodriguez, 0-for-4. Hates to face:
Johnny Damon, 3-for-5, 2B.
Why he'll win: Poise in the postseason.
Why he'll win: More comfortable at home.
Pitcher beware: Roughed up by PHI in May.
Pitcher beware: Yielded 6 HRs in 3 playoff starts.
Bottom line: Another World Series memory?
Bottom line: Can he keep it in the yard?
But the numbers don't lie. Last fall, the 25-year-old San Diego native was a sensation, finishing the playoffs with a 4-0 record and a 1.80 ERA in five starts. This year, he's 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts.
His regular-season numbers also tumbled. He was 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in 33 starts during the 2008 season and 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 32 starts the '09 regular season.
The reason for this obvious disparity?
"Location," said All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "He hasn't been able to place his fastball where he wants it. You see the catcher setting up outside, and he's pulling the ball in. When he's doing that, it makes his changeup a lot less effective. When he's spotting his fastball and he can throw the changeup in the same spot 10, 12 mph slower, it becomes tough to hit. But when he's struggling with one pitch, you can almost start cancelling out the other, and I think that's the biggest difference."
"I wasn't able to locate well earlier in the season," the young lefty said. "I wasn't able to get guys out that you know you should get out. So that became frustrating. Then it's the mental burden, which can wear you down week after week, because I wasn't going out there doing what I expected to do and what everybody else expects you to do, too. It's been a growing process. It's something that I think a lot of guys have had to go through."
With a finesse pitcher, the problem usually is not consistently being able to find the right arm slot. Oftentimes, that's because an injury or soreness won't allow him to do it. When a pitcher is accustomed to coming directly over the top, even a slight drop in the arm can cause a pitch like a fastball to wander across the plate.
That became obvious with Brandon Webb of the D-backs in the last month of the 2008 season. He said he couldn't consistently get his arm over the top, and his trademark sinker didn't have the same effectiveness. Nearly a year later, he went from 22 wins to none, he had right shoulder surgery and is still in the process of recovery.
That may not be the case with Hamels, but just a slight variance in his arm slot would give him problems spotting his pitches, particularly a fastball and changeup.
Thus far this October, Hamels hasn't shown any signs of improving. He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers even though Hamels allowed four runs on eight hits and didn't make it out of the sixth inning.
Ditto in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Rockies, when Hamels pitched five innings, allowing four runs and seven hits, including a Yorvit Torreabla home run. In that one, Hamels was tagged with the loss, the only one of that four-game series for the Phillies.
But hope always springs eternal, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Friday. Perhaps Hamels can recapture the magic of last fall.
"Every time I give him the ball, Cole's very capable of going out and throwing a shutout. I believe that," Manuel said. "Baseball is a game in which every day is different.
"Every time he goes out and pitches it's different in some ways. It's an adventure. I know he has the talent to shut them down. I've got a lot of confidence in him, and he's got a lot of self-confidence. I think he's going to do good."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.