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Hamels can't find his groove vs. Marlins

Hamels can't find his groove vs. Marlins

PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels refused to talk. So did pitching coach Rich Dubee.

But even in a silent Phillies clubhouse on Saturday night, one thing was clear: It's mid-August, and the 25-year-old who was supposed to anchor Philadelphia's staff is still searching for answers.

Hamels allowed four runs in just 5 1/3 innings as the Phillies lost to the Marlins, 6-4, in front of 45,086 at Citizens Bank Park.

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He is 7-7 with a 4.77 ERA, hardly the numbers that earned him an All-Star selection in 2007, postseason accolades in '08 and ace status in Philadelphia.

"He had command problems," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He can look good at some times, real good. And then it seems like he has an inning or two where things don't go good for him or he throws a lot of pitches."

He threw a lot of pitches on Saturday -- 115, two shy of his season high. His night got off to a bad start when Chris Coghlan hit his second career leadoff home run. Hamels battled over the next four inefficient innings, surrendering two more hits but walking three. In the sixth, he issued his fourth walk. Then Cody Ross delivered the decisive blow, a go-ahead two-run homer to left.

When the next batter, Ronny Paulino, singled, fans chanted for Manuel to remove Hamels. The manager obliged.

In 22 starts this season, Hamels has lasted seven innings or more just six times. After fewer than six innings, he has exited nine times.

Hamels was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA over his final three starts in July. But just when it seemed he had found a groove, he allowed six earned runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings against San Francisco last Sunday. Over his past two outings, Hamels has given up 10 earned runs over 10 1/3 innings (8.71 ERA).

A Phillies spokesman said that the lefty is physically fine. But as indicated by his in-game body language and postgame absence, Hamels is getting frustrated.

"A little bit, yeah," Manuel said. "I definitely think he tries too hard at times. But that's only normal."

Philadelphia's offense struggles were somewhat more atypical from a team that leads the National League in runs, home runs and total bases.

First baseman Ryan Howard -- who had been hitting .175 with 18 strikeouts over his past 10 games -- broke out of his recent slump with four hits, tying a career high. He singled twice, doubled twice, walked and scored Philadelphia's third run when his Florida counterpart, Nick Johnson, dropped a routine popup with two outs.

Howard's last four-hit game was Sept. 16, 2008.

But the Phillies had plenty of chances to get Hamels off the hook and could not deliver. Chase Utley struck out with two men on in the second. The Phils stranded Howard at second after his leadoff double in the fifth and his one-out double in the seventh. Pedro Feliz doubled to begin the eighth and also did not advance further.

On the night, Philadelphia was just 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

"If I could fix it, I sure would," Manuel said. "What are we going to do? Are we going to get out there and put guys on base and throw BP, let guys hit the ball the other way? I don't think that does it. ... We can talk about it all we want to, but in the game's where we do it."

Said Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez: "The bullpen did a terrific job, holding off those guys, and limiting them to one run there at the end."

Chan Ho Park could not limit the Marlins at the end. In two innings of relief, he allowed two earned runs, his first since July 17.

Florida entered this series having being swept by lowly Washington. They were seven games back of Philadelphia in the NL East.

Now the Marlins have won the first two at Citizens Bank Park -- guaranteeing the Phils their first home series loss since June -- to pull within five games.

"Our division is not over yet, no," Manuel said. "It's not over at all. We come out and win [Sunday] and we'll be OK. Things will be pretty close to normal. That's kind of how I look at it."

David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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