Hamels has Phils looking for answers

Hamels has Phils looking for answers

PHILADELPHIA -- If this year's World Series extends to seven games, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel hasn't committed to using pitcher Cole Hamels again. Instead, the even-keeled skipper will try to navigate through the hole his club faces in part because of Hamels' latest struggles.

After Hamels allowed the Yankees to build a fifth-inning lead that proved insurmountable in their 8-5 win in Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, there was reason to wonder if Manuel might give ace Cliff Lee the opportunity to pitch on short rest for the first time in his career.

But when Game 4 begins on Sunday night, CC Sabathia will be the only ace taking the mound on short rest. Unfazed by the challenge the big left-hander could present, Manuel has decided to stick with Joe Blanton and have Lee go in Game 5 on normal rest.

"Charlie doesn't panic," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said after the Yankees won Game 3 and claimed a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-seven Series.

While the decision to go with Lee might been interpreted as a sign of panic, it also would have at least given the Phillies a chance to bring Lee back again on short rest for another potential matchup against Sabathia in Game 7. Sabathia has already pitched with less than the normal four days of rest in the ALCS.

Instead, the Phillies will pit Blanton against Sabathia and find Lee only available in a potential relief role if Thursday night's scheduled Game 7 is necessary.

While Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA in four career starts against the Yankees, Lee has carried the dominance he's enjoyed the past two regular seasons into his first postseason.

During Thursday night's Game 1, Lee limited the Yankees to three hits and surrendered just an unearned ninth-inning run in his complete-game effort. His 0.54 ERA ranks as the best ever recorded by a pitcher who has completed at least 30 innings in the postseason.

"No reason to panic," Rollins said. "It is what it is, what are you going to do? You just gotta stay focused and don't look past tomorrow night. We're in good position."

The Phillies definitely appeared to be in good position when they gave Hamels a three-run second-inning lead and he needed just 37 pitches to cruise through the first three innings. But Alex Rodriguez's fourth-inning home run, which was awarded after a replay review, signaled the beginning of the southpaw's struggles.

HARD-HIT HAMELS
Cole Hamels' 2009 postseason has gone drastically different from a year ago, when he was named World Series MVP. The left-hander's career postseason stats:
Year G W-L H HR BB K ERA
2007 1 0-1 3 0 4 7 4.05
2008 5 4-0 23 2 9 30 1.80
2009 4 1-2 25 7 4 15 7.58

Hamels retired just one of the six batters that he faced in the Yankees three-run fifth inning and then found himself heading to the clubhouse much earlier than desired. Last year's postseason hero and World Series MVP hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in any of his four postseason starts this year.

More alarming is the fact that he hasn't completed five innings in his past two outings.

Still, while recognizing that Hamels hasn't been able to avoid the middle-inning struggles that have routinely plagued him this year, Manuel has at least left the door open for the left-hander to take the hill in Game 7.

"I wouldn't be hesitant to start him, but at the same time we'll see how the Series goes," Manuel said. "But I wouldn't be I wouldn't hesitate to start him. I think, like I said, he has a good game, and he showed you for three innings that he can pitch. I look at that. If he can do it for three innings, why can't he keep going?"

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

After watching Hamels allow the Yankees five earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings on Saturday night, the Phillies find themselves in position where they may not be able to comfortably send him to the mound with the hope that he's going to suddenly find the magic that followed him through last year's postseason.

If Manuel opts to go in another direction, J.A. Happ, who has primarily pitched in relief this postseason, said that he would be ready if given the opportunity to face the Yankees in Game 7. A favorite to be named the National League's Rookie of the Year, the southpaw said that he would be unfazed by the fact that he hasn't completed more than three innings since Sept. 29.

"At this time, it really doesn't matter," Happ said. "There's nothing else to bounce back from after that. You've got the whole offseason. Right now, it's whatever it takes."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.