(AP) — Coming off a pair of difficult seasons, Cole Hamels decided to make some major changes to his winter workouts.
“It takes a couple of years for us to realize what we can and cannot do,” the 35-year-old Chicago Cubs left-hander said after his spring debut Wednesday against his former team, the Texas Rangers.
Among the changes Hamels made was hiring a trainer for the first time, a “posture specialist” to help make his exercises more efficient.
“I stuck to that 5-6 days a week,” he said. “I also changed my strength program, it allowed me to utilize and identify my mechanics a little better, getting back to when I felt at my best. Over a period of time your body doesn’t allow you to do that. You get stronger, but you’re not utilizing everything that you have.”
The posture specialist, Hamels said, implemented a 45-minute routine before the workout. “So that when you work out, you’re in the proper form. And then after you’re done, you go back and do some stretching.”
Throwing almost exclusively fastballs against Texas on Wednesday, Hamels pitched two innings, allowing two hits. He threw 26 pitches, 17 of them strikes.
“It was good just to be able to get out there against guys that are actually swinging the bat against you,” Hamels said. “Just trying to establish the fastball, in the first couple games I’m just trying to get that as the key to my game plan.”
Entering his 14th major league season, the four-time All-Star was an asset down the stretch to the Cubs, going 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts after Chicago acquired him from the Rangers. He had been 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts for Texas.
“The instant you’re thrown into a playoff race, you focus a little bit more,” Hamels said. “Sometimes with a fresh start you’re not really carrying any extra baggage from a bad start or two.”
While Hamels pitched well, it was a disappointing season for the Cubs, two years removed from their World Series title.
They were overtaken by Milwaukee in the NL Central late in the season, and then lost the wild-card game to Colorado at Wrigley Field, making it the first time in four seasons that Chicago fell short of the NLCS.
“This is a really talented young team that has a lot of experience, and you don’t really see that,” Hamels said. “There’s a lot of expectations, and I think to not fall into that and go out and be positive and get the best out of each other. When we’re able to do that, that’s a fun team to be a part of.”
But his time in Texas was sidetracked by an oblique injury early in the 2017 season, which prompted the changes to his preparation this offseason.
The Cubs open the regular season at Texas and Hamels — who still makes his home in the Dallas area — figures to pitch in that series.
“It would be the first time I’ve ever pitched against a team I played for,” Hamels said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to pitch against the Phillies.”
“They know what I know, they know what’s coming. So it’s going to be a game, but it will be really fun and it’s a tremendous place to play,” he said.
Even with his accomplishments — a career 3.40 ERA, 156 wins and a 2008 World Series MVP with Philadelphia — Hamels hopes to pitch for another decade and has set that as his goal.
“I played with Jamie Moyer,” Hamels said of his one-time staff mate with the Phillies who pitched until age 49. “I’d rather play towards 45. That’s my intention. I don’t ever want to stop short.”
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