Cole Hamels intends to give Braves a boost for postseason

Braves pitcher Cole Hamels gets in some work from the mound running drills during the first workout of summer Friday July 3, 2020, at Truist Park in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Cole Hamels will throw approximately 55 to 60 pitches in his long-awaited debut Wednesday. It will start what Hamels hopes is a 180-degree turnaround regarding the success of his Braves tenure.

The 36-year-old signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves last winter. He was supposed to stabilize a rotation that was going to rely heavily on younger pitchers after waving farewell to noted veteran innings-eaters Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel.

Instead, it’s been a nightmare eight months for Hamels. He suffered a shoulder injury before spring training that kept him out of the exhibition season. The Braves thought he’d be ready for the rebooted season in late July, but triceps tendinitis set him back again.

With only 12 games remaining, Hamels finally is preparing to make a start for his new team Wednesday in Baltimore. It will be his first outing since Sept. 28, 2019, for the Cubs. He had a 3.81 ERA across 27 starts last season.

“It was (frustrating),” Hamels said about his rehab. "I was putting in as much time as I could to rehab my shoulder, build up my throwing. Once I created that bone bruise on my elbow, you go back to the drawing board because I was very limited in what I could do so I wouldn’t create a stress fracture, stress reaction, something that could’ve put me out for three to six months. That was the tough part about it because my elbow locked down trying to protect, and I’m trying to push through. It’s about listening to the body and how it responds.

“I do understand completely that I am a little bit older. I’m not healing as fast as a 22-year-old. But I have to do it right, and we did it the best we possibly could so I could be of service here and I could be someone they can rely on when it really is crunch time.”

The southern California native doesn’t have much time to spare before the intensity ramps up. The Braves will be in the postseason, and should they win the opening three-game wild-card series, they’ll head to Texas to enter the MLB’s newly announced bubble.

The Braves signed Hamels, a former National League Championship Series and World Series MVP, with October in mind.

“That’s what I enjoy the most, the postseason,” Hamels said. “The competitiveness is there in every game because it matters. That’s what I thrive off of. I’m excited to be around these guys and really try to give them as much information as I possibly can, with (my) knowledge and experience, to see how well they can advance themselves.”

Hamels threw 43 pitches in his latest simulated game. He’ll throw no more than 60 Wednesday and expects to add 10 to 15 pitches in each additional start. He wants his count between 80 and 90 for the postseason.

“He knows what he’s doing,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s very competitive. He told me the last time he went at the alternate site that he’s treating it like it’s his first game. He was doing everything like it was a real game instead of a scrimmage. That’s why he’s been such a great pitcher for so long. We’ll do the smart thing, get him to 55 or 60 the first time, and he’ll let us know as we go. Those guys are always transparent with you and let you know where they’re at and how they feel.”

Once an ironman, this is the second consecutive season Hamels has been derailed by injuries. A left-oblique strain limited him to 141-1/3 innings last season, which was only the second time in a decade he didn’t reach 190 innings. A more serious oblique injury stalled him in 2017.

It’s been an unfortunate development for Hamels, whose career is in its latter stages, and the Braves, whose rotation has been a mess. Hamels was one of many starters who were unexpectedly unavailable or ineffective. The Braves entered spring training believing they had ample pitching depth. A week into the 60-game campaign, it was apparent their starting group was their biggest weakness.

“I know that was what was looked at when I signed here, was that I’m a guy who goes deep into ballgames and can put together starts every five days,” Hamels said. “To not be that because of what was happening, it’s deflating because I know that’s what I’ve worked towards and that’s what I’ve always expected out of myself every year for a very long time. That’s the person I am, and that’s the person I want to be able to show the pitching staff here, the young guys they have.”

Hamels repeatedly referenced the postseason, where he could be a difference maker if he’s back to his usual performance level. In 13 career postseason series, Hamels owns a 3.41 ERA with 93 strikeouts against 27 walks in 100-1/3 innings (17 games).

MLB’s postseason schedule also won’t include off-days until the World Series, which affects teams' rotation plans. Ace Max Fried, for instance, could no longer start twice in the NL Division Series. The Braves need Hamels, among others, to be reliable. Hamels is confident he will be.

“That’s what I enjoy, the chess match that the postseason really provides for you,” he said. “That’s where my knowledge and experience has to come in. I’m going to be really focusing and not worrying about soreness and injury or pitch count as much. I’m going to go out there and compete, put up as many zeros as possible and hand it over to one of the best bullpens I’ve ever seen.”