I’m not sure if you guys remember how Cole Hamels looked the first few times he pitched this Spring, so I’ll remind you: the results more or less mirrored what you might expect if a newborn baby deer climbed atop a pitching mound and kicked baseballs up to home plate for an inning or two, and all of Ranger fandom whispered “is the baby deer broken?” and chewed their nails a little bit. Well, tonight was Hamels’ final tune-up before the regular season, and I think it’s safe to say tonight he was a majestic bull elk, bugling his call to the American League: Bring it on.
The metaphor breaks down: an Elk–majestic as it might be–would likely be no more effective at pitching than a baby deer. But the imagery works, and it’s the next-to-last Spring Training game, so I’m going with it. Hamels went six shutout innings, and his line included more strikeouts (4) than hits (3) and walks (0) combined. The baby deer elk man is not broken, he is ready for the regular season, and he is majestic.
“I know they’re an aggressive team so you do have to be aware of it,” Hamels said after the game.”But at the same time, you have to be able to execute strikes, and if you’re able to do that, more times than not, it’s going to go in your favor, and that’s what I was able to do with getting ahead, getting the early ground balls… It’s nice to get a game over before ten,” he joked, gesturing towards the clock on the clubhouse wall. “I think the league would be happy.”
In fact, Hamels pitched so efficiently that he had to go to the bullpen to finish getting his work in so that the Rangers could let Andrew Cashner get his first a-game action of the Spring (his balky biceps kept him out of action). He took over in the 7th inning, and required just 7 pitches to retire Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez. If you’re going to face three hitters in the 7th inning of a Spring Training game, you probably don’t expect it to be those three, but it was a nice test for Cashner, and he aced it.
The eighth inning was a little easier, as far as household names go, but the result was largely the same. Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Whit Merrifield went groundout, walk, double play. And in the ninth? Raul Mondesi, Peter O’Brien, and Drew Butera. Line out, ground out, and called strike three, respectively. But don’t say it looked easy, Cashner warned afterwards: “The day you think it’s easy is when you get it handed to you,” he joked.
Very well, then: it looked like a Moose stomping around authoritatively, asserting his health.
Ahh yes, there were some runs scored, too. They all happened in a wild second inning that vaguely resembled the 2016 “Cluster Luck” Rangers, in that of the team’s seven hits, four of them (and two of their four walks) happened in the second. It started with Nomar Mazara and Jonathan Lucroy each slapping smooth opposite-field singles, then after a Joey Gallo strikeout, Ryan Rua singled home Mazara, and Elvis Andrus doubled home Lucroy. Carlos Gomez followed with a sac fly, and it was 3-0. The walks followed (Shin-Soo Choo and Rougned Odor), but Mike Napoli’s fly out to right field ended the inning, and the scoring for the evening.
One last note: Hamels mentioned (video below) that he was working more on keeping the ball low in the zone, especially on his sinker, which he is throwing with more “sink” and less “run”. I asked him after the camera was off if that was a grip thing. He affirmed that it was, saying that he has been tinkering with his sinker’s grip for the last two years, and he finally thinks he has one he likes.