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PHI@ATL: Hamels strikes out nine over seven frames

With the Trade Deadline looming a week away and the Phillies out of contention, nearly everyone on Philadelphia's roster is expendable. But if there's one Phillie who is more a part of the future plans than the rest, it is the left-hander taking the mound for them Thursday afternoon.

Cole Hamels will try to steer Philly clear of a four-game sweep as it takes on the Giants at Citizens Bank Park in the series finale. San Francisco is 5-1 on its current roadtrip and has won eight of its last 11 en route to reclaiming the National League West lead over the Dodgers.

Hamels has been one of the most dominant starters in the NL since mid-May. He has pitched at least seven innings 12 times in 14 starts with an ERA of 2.12 since May 11, yet only has a 4-3 record over that span. His 3.71 runs of support per game this season is 16th worst in the NL.

It was looking like more of the same Hamels' last time out, as the Phillies were blanked through six innings by the Braves. But Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run homer in the seventh to give Hamels the win his effort warranted -- he threw seven innings of one-run ball while striking out nine without a walk.

It was his ninth career effort of at least seven innings and at least nine strikeouts without a walk -- and he did it by nearly abandoning his changeup.

"I was able to really commit and really execute pitches," Hamels said. "I didn't even get myself to even throw my changeup as much. I know that's my out pitch, but when you're not even able to go to your best pitch and you're getting them out ahead, the confidence kind of builds from there."

Tim Hudson, meanwhile, will serve as Hamels' counterpart Thursday, and the veteran right-hander is continuing to prove he's still got a lot left in the tank. While the 39-year-old was shaky in his five starts prior to the All-Star break -- he posted an 0-4 record with a 6.07 ERA -- eight days of rest allowed him to regain his form. Hudson held the Marlins to one run in 7 1/3 innings in a win at Marlins Park.

Giants: Belt having trouble shaking concussion
First baseman Brandon Belt's slow recovery from a concussion is beginning to worry the Giants.

Manager Bruce Bochy initially expressed hopes that Belt, who was knocked woozy by a thrown ball during batting practice last Saturday, should have been able to participate in baseball-related activities by now. Instead, head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner often has sent Belt home after he reports to the ballpark.

Belt, 26, is on the seven-day disabled list reserved for concussed players. He's eligible to be reinstated Sunday, but that's unlikely to happen at the current rate.

"It's hanging on a little more than we thought," Bochy said Wednesday of Belt's discomfort. "We have some concern there."

Phillies: Other players to see time over Howard
Ryan Howard is struggling through arguably the worst season of his career, following two injury-riddled seasons, and Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is ready to look at other options at first base, something unimaginable just a few years ago.

"I know what Ryan Howard can do," Sandberg said Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "I think it's also important to see what other guys can do."

Darin Ruf started at first base against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday, and he could be there more often going forward, although Sandberg said that decision will be made daily. Triple-A infielder Maikel Franco could see playing time at first, if he gets healthy and gets called up in September.

Asked if this means he is looking for Howard's replacement at first base, Sandberg said, "No, but I think it's also important to see and gauge other players to see where they're at."

Worth noting:
• Giants second baseman Joe Panik, who rolled his right ankle by stepping on the side of first base in Tuesday night's first inning, remained on day-to-day playing status Wednesday but believed that he'll be ready to play sooner than later.

"Right now, all signs are positive," Panik said.

• The Giants bullpen has allowed just two runs in 16 innings in the first three game of this series and just four earned runs in 39 1/3 innings (0.92 ERA) over the last 13 games.

• The Phillies' Grady Sizemore remains one hit shy of 1,000 for his career.

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