Since laboring in his most recent start against the Washington Nationals, Cole Hamels has often been on top of his game and perhaps made himself even more desirable to other teams.
The Philadelphia Phillies left-hander will seek to win a fourth consecutive start in Saturday's rematch with the Nationals while Bryce Harper will seek to extend his team's season-high win streak to seven games by furthering his power surge.
Hamels (4-3, 3.24 ERA) is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his six starts since a 5-2 loss at Washington on April 16 and has a 1.69 ERA in his string of three consecutive victories. He gave up one run in 7 1-3 innings in a 4-3 win at Colorado on Monday and improved to 11-0 since the beginning of last season when the Phillies (18-26) give him three or more runs of support.
"He's just focused on the task at hand, the challenge on the field of getting hitters out and winning," pitching coach Bob McClure told MLB's official website. "He's so competitive. He just wants the ball every fifth day and wants to win."
Hamels, a consistent subject of trade rumors in the early season, was charged with five runs in six innings in last month's loss to the Nationals (25-17). This time, he'll face a red-hot lineup that's led the way during an 18-4 stretch.
The Nationals, batting .299 and averaging 6.3 runs in those 22 games, had six hits in Friday's series opener but got two key ones from Harper and Ian Desmond in a 2-1 victory. Harper hit his 11th home run in 14 games - and NL-best 16th overall - and Desmond had a tiebreaking double in the sixth.
"I like where he's at. I think he's taking his at-bats seriously," manager Matt Williams said of Harper, batting .522 with 24 RBIs in his last 14 contests. "He's being patient enough to get good pitches to hit and if they don't give him good pitches, he's gladly taking his walks."
Harper has three hits in his last 15 at-bats versus Hamels and no home runs. He's 0 for 3 with three walks this season against the lefty and 6 for 23 (.261) with four homers in eight games versus Philadelphia this season.
Hamels is 0-3 with a 3.35 ERA in six starts versus Washington since a 5-4 win Sept. 14, 2013, and yielded one run in seven innings in a 3-2 home victory April 11.
Hamels hasn't won four consecutive starts since a five-game run in May 2012.
If facing a red-hot Harper wasn't daunting enough, Hamels might have to outduel Stephen Strasburg (3-4, 5.98), who has often shined against the Phillies. The right-hander is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last nine matchups and yielded one run in 7 1-3 innings in a 4-1 home win April 19.
Strasburg had an improved showing in a 10-5 win in San Diego on Sunday following one of his worst performances of his career. He gave up three runs in five-plus innings against the Padres after allowing eight in 3 1-3 of a 14-6 drubbing in Arizona on May 12.
Strasburg will also try to send the Nationals to an eighth consecutive home victory. They won a franchise record-tying 10 in a row and nine straight at home in August.
Hamels has allowed one home run in 40 1-3 innings since giving up two in last month's loss to Washington.
The Phillies' Ryan Howard, batting .400 with three homers in his last nine games, is 3 for 21 with eight strikeouts lifetime against Strasburg. Chase Utley, hitting .458 in his last seven contests, is 4 for 25.