Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels is enjoying one of the best stretches of his seven-year career, but a controversial on-field incident and his comments in the aftermath have garnered more attention.
Hamels returns from suspension Sunday looking to continue his success against the San Diego Padres and win a fifth straight decision overall in the conclusion of a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park.
Hamels (4-1, 2.45 ERA) has gone 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA over his last five starts while striking out 35 in 35 innings.
The left-hander was outstanding again last Sunday, yielding one run, five hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in eight innings of a 9-3 win at Washington. However, it was one pitch well outside of the strike zone that put him in the national spotlight. Hamels beaned Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, admitting afterward that it was intentional - his way of welcoming the rookie to the big leagues.
"I was trying to hit him," Hamels said. "I'm not going to deny it. I'm not trying to injure the guy. They're probably not going to like me for it, but I'm not going to say I wasn't trying to do it.
"That's something I grew up watching, that's kind of what happened. So I'm just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it."
Hamels was suspended five games, which only pushed his scheduled start back one day.
"He could have been a little bit more discreet about it, or a little less honest," manager Charlie Manuel told the Phillies' official website.
Hamels will now try to help Philadelphia take two of three from the Padres (12-22), against whom he's 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 12 career starts. He's been particularly dominant while winning his last four outings versus San Diego, compiling a 0.60 ERA and a .162 opponent batting average.
The Phillies (15-19) had their own offensive shortcomings on display Saturday, when they matched the Padres' eight hits but went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position en route to a 2-1 loss.
Center fielder Shane Victorino had three of those eight hits for Philadelphia, and is batting .308 in his last 12 games - a dramatic improvement from his 3-for-33 slump over his previous eight contests.
Victorino is batting .400 in 20 career home meetings versus the Padres, and is 4 for 8 against Jeff Suppan, Sunday's scheduled starter for San Diego.
Teammate Hunter Pence is 7 for 17 with three homers off Suppan, but enters this meeting mired in a 2-for-19 slump, although the two hits were a triple and a home run.
Suppan (2-0, 0.90) has been impressive since replacing the injured Cory Luebke (elbow) in the Padres rotation. The 37-year-old right-hander is trying to win three starts in a row for the first time since Aug. 1-12, 2008, when he was with Milwaukee.
Suppan, who spent all of 2011 in the minors, yielded four hits in five innings of a 5-0 win over the Brewers on May 2. He followed that up by allowing one run over five innings of Tuesday's 3-1 victory over Colorado.
"I learned a lot from last year and I learned a lot from this year," Suppan said. "What I've learned is to always be ready."
Suppan hasn't defeated the Phillies since May 6, 2004, going 0-7 with an 8.02 ERA in nine starts since then, including the loss that eliminated the Brewers in Game 4 of an 2008 NL divisional series.
This is the season series finale for these teams, which have split the first six games. The Padres haven't won a season series against the Phillies since 2006.