Cole Hamels turned 35 this year, but that doesn’t mean he feels he’s in the twilight of his career.
To hear the Cubs left-hander tell it, the sun is still shining brightly, and there’s no talk of quitting anytime soon.
“[Heck] no,” he said early in spring training. “I really love what [Houston’s Justin] Verlander had to say. His goal is to play ’til he’s 45. That’s always been my goal. I played with Jamie Moyer. He was kind of the epitome of a guy that played and took it seriously in a sense that when you’re 35, 40, 45, you’re not done, you’re not down and out. And that’s my intention.”
The Cubs hope to get at least one more good year out of Hamels. They picked up his $20 million option for this season after he appeared rejuvenated after a July 27 trade from the Texas Rangers.
With the Rangers, Hamels was 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA. In 12 starts with the Cubs, he was 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA, a WHIP of 1.10 and the team’s only complete game of the season.
A fresh start and pitching in a pennant race seem to have refreshed Hamels.
“There’s a lot of different parts,” he said. “I think it was more so we were working on some things in my bullpens, in the games. They weren’t translating to being successful, but we were getting on the right page. I think the instant they throw you into a playoff race, there’s a little bit more at stake, you kind of narrow your focus a little bit harder.”
Hamels said he changed his workout routine for this offseason, even working with a posture specialist, who would get him going for 45 minutes before his workouts.
It’s all a matter of adjusting to time.
“I think it takes a couple years for a lot of us to finally have to realize what we can and cannot do,” he said. “Routines, change them. Make adjustments. I think that’s kind of what I did this year. From the very start of the off-season, I completely changed my workouts and had to look into, a little bit, different exercises that could make me more prepared to physically be at my best.
“Sometimes I think we fall into routines a little too much. You have to be willing to make a change, and I think that’s what I was really focused on this off-season, making sure that I tried to figure out what I needed to do to be in better physical shape so that I could go out there and play like I’m 22, like half these guys here.”
Hamels pitched a no-hitter against the Cubs for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. But he got a small taste last season of what it’s like to be a Cub and to play in Chicago. The season ended in disappointment, with the Cubs losing to the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card game.
“This is a really talented young team that has a lot of experience, and you don’t really see that much,” he said. “It’s a big city. There are a lot of expectations, and I think to not fall into that, to really come together and know what we have to go out and do and be ourselves in doing so and also just making sure we’re positive and we’re trying to get the best out of each other.
“I think that’s what we really saw. And I think we took from this whole offseason and coming into spring that sets the game plan, to really come together as a better group, a stronger group, because when we’re able to do that, we’re able to be a force to be reckoned with, and that’s a fun team to be a part of.”
For his career, Hamels is 156-144 with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He has pitched in 17 postseason games, earning a championship ring with the Phillies in 2008.
Getting some more of that kind of playoff action is one motivating factor for him wanting to pitch into middle age.
“You keep goals, even if they’re obtainable, non-obtainable,” he said. “If it never happens, that’s what I intended to do. I don’t ever want to stop short. I don’t think anybody wants to stop short of the finish line.
“You always want to push. That’s always what I want to do. My intention’s the same as Verlander, to go out and play until I’m 45. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, but that’s what I intend to do.”