It is hard to believe that it has been half a decade since the Texas Rangers rocked the baseball world by trading for the Seattle Mariners’ left-handed staring pitcher Cliff Lee. This season, Texas again pulled of a trade to land one of baseball’s best pitchers, the Philadelphia Phillies’ lefty Cole Hamels whose his first start with Texas on Saturday night was eerily similar to Lee’s first start as a Ranger on July 10, 2010.
When a big-name pitcher is traded, it is not unusual for his first start with his new team to be a struggle as fatigue from the flurry of activity surrounding the trade can take its toll as can the adjustment to new teammates, a new clubhouse and a new life in a new town all which can interrupt the pitcher’s normal preparation. Both Lee and Hamels showed flashes of their greatness but neither man was able to deliver a performance on par with what he and the fans expected.
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The hype on behalf of the fans was palpable for each game. Lee’s start drew 14,300 walk-up fans (fans that decided to buy tickets at the stadium box office indicating a last minute consumer decision to attend the game, probably in order to see the new star pitcher.) Hamels’ debut drew another large walk-up crowd of over 8,500 fans.
Both Lee and Hamels have a reputation of being workhorses and each displayed that ability in his Rangers debut. Lee tossed a complete game against the Baltimore Orioles on 95 pitches and Hamels came within one out of giving Texas 8 complete but neither man was pleased with his performance.
Both pitchers were victimized by the long ball. Lee served up three home runs, one in three consecutive innings. Meanwhile, Hamels allowed a 3rd inning leadoff shot to San Francisco Giant’s first baseman Brandon Belt (who also homed in the 11th inning) and another homer to his personal nemesis, catcher Buster Posey to begin the 7th inning. Posey almost had two solo shots in the game, but Delino DeShields made a great play at the wall to rob Posey early on.
The final stats for Lee and Hamels in their first start as a Ranger are similar. Hamels went 7.2 innings allowing eight hits, five earned runs, two homers with one walk and six strikeouts. Meanwhile, over Lee’s 9.0 innings he allowed six runs on nine hits, 3 of which left the yard, and recorded only two strikeouts.
Furthermore, on both occasions, the Rangers lost the game. On July 10th, 2010, Texas lost Lee’s debut 6-1 to Baltimore while on Saturday night, Texas fell to the Giants (Hamels’ kryptonite) 9-7 in 11 innings.
One major difference between the two starts is that unlike Lee, Hamels did put his team in position to win the game. A strong offensive performance, including an unexpected boost from newly acquired catcher Bobby Wilson (2-4, 2 RBI) who was claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday put Hamels up 7-4 when he left the mound to a thunderous standing ovation from the 41,000 fans in attendance. There was a lot to like from Hamels in this start.
He still has good velocity on his fastball. He started out in the low 90’s and he maintained that velocity into the seventh inning. When the eighth rolled around, a little something had come off of it, but it was still high 80’s at worst. Also his curveball and his changeup were both working well. He got numerous outs on those pitches, fooling quite a few Giants batters.
However, the Texas bullpen, which has recently been reinforced by the trade acquisitions of power lefty Jake Diekman from Philadelphia (part of the Hamels deal) and Sam Dyson, a righty with a hard sinker as his primary weapon acquired via trade with the Miami Marlins, once again let the Rangers down.
Long time Ranger, Tanner Scheppers replaced Hamels on the mound and quickly gave up three consecutive hits to surrender the lead. Scheppers’ 2015 struggles (5.66 ERA for the once reliable late-inning reliever) continue to hurt the bullpen. Today, he was placed on the disabled list due to left knee inflammation. He has allowed 10 runs in his last 7 1/3 innings.
Ultimately, Hunter Pence delivered the death blow to Texas with a leadoff home run in the 11th inning and though Hamels’ first performance for Texas was more competitive than Lee’s Ranger’s opener, the results were similar, a ton of excitement was tempered by a loss.
Unlike the 2010 Rangers that acquired Lee while leading the American League West, the 2015 Rangers have a mountain to climb to secure a playoff start. However, fans should be more excited by the addition of Hamels to the rotation because he will likely be pitching for the home team through 2018 while Lee was a soon-to-be free agent brought on as a hired gun to get Texas to the playoffs; which he did leading Texas to its first ever American League pennant.
One start is not indicative of a player’s stats but keep in mind that Hamels has struggled against American League teams and he will have to learn how to pitch in Globe Life Park. But last night was only the prologue to what will hopefully be a long and successful run for the 31-year-old in Texas. And in the similar way that Hamel’s first start resembled Lee’s first start in Arlington, here’s to hoping that at some time in his Rangers’ tenure, Hamels can lead Texas where Lee did, the World Series