PITTSBURGH — It was the debut the Chicago Cubs were hoping for: Four-time All-Star Cole Hamels dazzled with his changeup on the way to a five-inning, nine-strikeout performance in the Cubs’ 9-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday. It helped that the Cubs offense staked him to an early, 4-0 lead.
“S—, four runs in the first inning and I hadn’t even thrown a pitch yet,” a smiling Hamels said after the win. “That’s an incredible experience right there.”
Hamels actually batted before he threw a pitch for his new team, but when he did take the mound, his pedigree emerged. His fastball was not at its best, but his curve and changeup were outstanding.
“His stuff was really good,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “His changeup was, as I remembered it.”
Hamels struck out six batters on his changeup, the most since he threw a no-hitter against Maddon’s Cubs in 2015, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“All year my changeup has been horrendous,” said Hamels, who was traded to Chicago by the Texas Rangers on Friday. “That’s been my focus these last couple weeks. To get back to what I know. It’s the reason I made the league when I was so young, because of my changeup.
“It’s nice to have off-speed stuff I can throw at any time. When you have good movement and throw strikes early you’re able to make them chase later on.”
Hamels went old school in a couple other ways, throwing his hardest pitch (96.4 mph) in over two years. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Hamels averaged 93.8 mph on his four-seam fastball, the fastest since facing the Cubs in another game in 2016. But it was that curve and changeup that made his night. He left after 95 pitches and with plenty of hope for him and the Cubs.
“This team’s awesome,” he said. “They really have some great guys, the young personalities and the veterans keeping a good team morale. The energy is up and that’s just something you thoroughly enjoy. When games matter, everybody’s focused, everybody’s having a good time.”
It wasn’t all perfect for Hamels as he grinded through the first couple of innings averaging 4.52 pitches per at-bat, the most in a start in two seasons. But he was always in control of the game, especially pitching with a big lead. The Cubs got the boost they needed for a much-maligned starting rotation.
“He’s very capable of getting on a nice roll with high-end stuff,” Maddon said.
Following Hamels on the mound was another new acquisition, righty Brandon Kintzler, who threw 1⅓ innings without giving up a run. Afterward, he was glad to address a story in The Washington Post, intimating he was a leak in the Nationals locker room, leading to his trade to the Cubs.
“I just want to get my name clear,” Kintzler said. “I don’t want my character being questioned. I work hard to be a very good teammate. That’s something I learned coming up from [Hall of Fame closer] Trevor Hoffman.”
The Cubs claim they’ve heard nothing but good things about Kintzler and are glad to have him. He joins Hamels and Jesse Chavez as three July arms the team added, none bigger than the former World Series MVP who was on his game in his debut.
“You want to win a game for your new team,” Hamels said. “You want to get into the mix.”
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