Programming note: A's-Giants coverage starts Thursday at 12:00 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN FRANCISCO – Jason Hammel’s first start with the A’s will burn into his memory for a rather odd reason.
The right-hander got a visit from Oakland’s training staff in the bottom of the fifth Wednesday against the Giants when he suffered a bizarre thumb cramp on his left (non-throwing) hand. He finished that inning but didn’t come out for the sixth as the A’s lost 5-2 to see their six-game winning streak snapped.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Hammel drops debut, A's lose 5-2 to Giants]
On a night when Hammel hardly felt like himself on the mound, maybe the unusual ailment shouldn’t have been a surprise either.
“My hand just cramped up and I couldn’t get it to straighten out,” Hammel said afterward. “I had to stop and figure out what was going on. It looked like I had dislocated it, but it was just a really bad cramp.”
Cameras showed Hammel’s thumb bent forward at a 90-degree angle as he struggled to straighten it back out. Hammel had never experienced such a problem, nor had A’s manager Bob Melvin ever seen a pitcher go through such a thing.
Neither Melvin nor Hammel thought the thumb would be an issue moving forward, meaning Hammel will be concentrating primarily on sharpening up his stuff for his next trip to the mound.
The fact that he labored over his 99-pitch outing, walking three and going deep into numerous counts, perhaps shouldn’t register all that much shock. He joined the A’s on Monday after he and Jeff Samardzija were acquired in a weekend trade from the Cubs. By the time he took the mound Wednesday night, Hammel had seen Jesse Chavez and Sonny Gray pitch lights-out in beating the Giants in the first two games of this Bay Bridge series.
He knew how Oakland’s rotation dominated on the just-completed homestand, and surely he was looking to impress in a high-profile game against the cross-bay rival.
A’s catcher Derek Norris said Hammel may have been just a bit too amped up.
“I think he was just a little pumped up. He couldn’t get to counts he wanted to get in to to (set up) certain pitches.”
Hammel was leaving his mid-90’s fastball up in the zone. The command of his bread-and-butter slider eluded him too. Ahead in the count 1-2 to Hunter Pence in the fourth, Hammel left a fastball over the plate and Pence crushed it over the center field wall to give the Giants a 3-1 lead.
“I just didn’t have consistent command,” Hammel said. “That’s just not me, walking guys. I got myself into trouble putting guys on base. Also, not putting guys away -- two-strike pitches that were too hittable.”
Despite Hammel’s lack of sharpness, Melvin said he saw the stuff and the velocity that paved the way to the 2.98 ERA that Hammel had fashioned in the National League.
“He got a little more comfortable as the game went on,” Melvin said. “He started mixing his pitches more. But he’s got good stuff. It’s probably not exactly what he hoped for, but we didn’t do him any favors in the field, really, or swinging the bats.”
No argument there. The A’s didn’t look sharp defensively and they mustered just five hits against Matt Cain and three relievers.
So if Hammel walked away from his A’s debut knowing he hadn’t put his best foot forward, his new teammates will be looking to make a better impression in his next start as well.