Hamels was the main reason the Phillies won the second world championship in franchise history in 2008. He was MVP of the World Series and NLCS, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts.
Now the former ace is a No. 4 starter. That's no knock against Hamels, however. He could be the No. 1 pitcher on plenty of teams. But the Phillies have assembled a starting staff that could eventually go down as one of the best in major league history.
In front of Hamels are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. They've got three Cy Young Awards, 12 All-Star game appearances and six 20-win seasons on their collective resume. After Hamels, there's Joe Blanton.
So, the lanky lefty has no problem accepting his role.
"I've never looked at myself as ever having an ego," said Hamels, who was nicknamed "Hollywood" by some of his teammates in his early years. "Just being able to add guys that are good, because I am young, if I can learn from these guys, I feel like I can get better. That's the whole idea is to get better and compete at another level. Enjoy the moments that we get to play baseball because that's why we're here. We love this game so much, and the ultimate goal is to go to the World Series."
Hamels, a first-round pick in 2002, reached the majors in '06 after battling injuries in the minors. He went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in his first full season in 2007, establishing himself as the team's ace and helping the Phillies win the first of four consecutive NL East titles.
Hamels was 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in '08 and followed that up with one of the most dominant postseason performances in history. The Phillies rewarded him with a three-year, $20.5 million contract.
But success took a toll. Hamels spent the offseason on the banquet circuit, accepting awards, making appearances and being the toast of the town. He wasn't ready to pitch when spring training opened in 2009 and never found his groove.
Hamels went just 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA that year, and struggled in the postseason as the Phillies tried for a repeat. He was passed over for veteran Pedro Martinez to start Game 2 of the World Series at hostile Yankee Stadium. Hamels then blew a 3-0 lead in a pivotal loss in Game 3, and New York took the series in six games.
Hamels had lost his confidence. He didn't have the same poise on the mound and visibly expressed his frustrations when things didn't go his way. He snatched the catcher's throw if a close pitch wasn't called a strike. He glared at infielders if they botched a double play. He threw his hands up in disgust if a broken-bat hit fell in.
After that season, Hamels vowed to regain his form. He began throwing early in the winter and his arm was ready to go by the time spring training started. Hamels added a cutter to his repertoire to go along with a devastating change-up and an above-average fastball. That gave hitters another pitch to watch out for.
Hamels was only 12-11 last year, but that's mainly because he had poor run support. He had a career-best 3.06 ERA and could've won 18-20 games if a once-potent offense helped him out more. Hamels never complained, though. He said all the right things and showed his maturity.
Having Halladay, Lee and Oswalt around helps the 27-year-old Hamels, who is the youngest of the group. He doesn't have to put too much pressure on himself, and he can learn a lot from the accomplished veterans.
"I think knowing that every guy can come in and do a phenomenal job pitching, can go nine innings, can throw shutouts, it just kind of eases some of the tension," Hamels said. "You don't have to be 'the man.'"
Hamels followed the same offseason routine, and was impressive right from the start this spring. On the first day of workouts, he stood out in pitching coach Rich Dubee's eyes.
"He is so far beyond what he used to be in spring training," Dubee said after watching his first throwing session. "He could have pitched in a game today. His arm's in that good a shape."
Hamels used to talk about lofty goals. Winning 20 games, pitching no-hitters and earning a Cy Young Award were on his list. Watching Halladay, Lee and Oswalt pitch can only push him even harder to accomplish those goals.
"We are true competitors," Hamels said. "We're going to try to do the best we possibly can. But at the same time, I don't think we have to put any other stress on it."
Of course, the top priority is winning another World Series.
"Joe (Blanton) and I obviously have rings, but we want to get another one and another one after that," Hamels said. "So that's just why we're sitting here is to get that ring and to eventually try to just play baseball as long as we possibly can."