OAKLAND -- The relief could be heard in Jason Hammel’s voice.
He was far from perfect Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, and he knew it. But the box score won’t be what the A’s right-hander remembers from this one.
He’ll remember a standing ovation from a home crowd that he greatly wanted to perform well for. And he’ll remember notching his first win in an Oakland uniform.
It marked a calendar month Tuesday since Hammel and Jeff Samardzija came over in a trade from the Cubs. But you get the feeling that Hammel finally feels part of the A’s fold after throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over the Rays.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Important win for Hammel as A's beat Rays]
“I wanted to give these guys something to cheer about,” Hammel said. “Not that I have to validate or prove anything, but I know what I can do as a pitcher. And right now it’s that tough part of the season that you just gotta get through. I’ve just got to continue to battle, work hard, and I’ll find myself and get right back in the swing of things.”
Hammel (1-4) is one of just three pitchers in Oakland history to lose their first four games with the A’s. His first four starts resulted in 18 earned runs in just 17 innings pitched. There was potential for things to go south once again Tuesday as Hammel issued four walks and continuously found himself pitching with traffic on the bases.
In short, he lived dangerously. But he never let the wheels come off. Hammel used his sinker to induce two ground-ball double plays. He mixed in his curve and change-up, and though he didn’t always have pinpoint control of those pitches, the expanded repertoire gave the Rays a different look.
“I thought he mixed his pitches a lot better today,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He mixed in his curve and his change-up more. It speeds you up, slows you down. He had some base runners, but you saw how his sinker came into play with the double plays.”
“It’s a lot harder to hit when you have to think about four different pitches instead of two,” he said. “I’m not too happy about the walks, but I’m gonna grind it until I find myself.”
Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist said Hammel didn’t pitch like someone with a 9.53 ERA since coming over to the American League.
“I thought Hammel pitched really well compared to what he has been doing, apparently,” Zobrist said. “I didn’t really see anything good to hit, and the ones that we did hit hard were not in the right spot.”
Perhaps sensing how much a solid outing meant for him, a crowd of 16,335 gave Hammel a standing ovation when Melvin came to get him with two outs and a runner on first in the sixth. Hammel tipped his cap walking off the field.
“Obviously I want to come in and make an immediate impact, and it didn’t work out that way,” Hammel said. “It goes to show you how good of baseball fans we have here.”
Hammel got a big assist from his defense. Third baseman Josh Donaldson made a diving stop to his left to get a force-out at second in the third. With a man on second and no outs in the fifth, shortstop Eric Sogard cut down Desmond Jennings at third base when he tried to advance on a grounder to the left side.
And, the A’s got terrific work from their bullpen, as Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle didn’t allow a single base runner over the final 3 1/3 innings.
Doolittle, who notched his 17th save, was happy that Hammel finally tasted some success in an A’s uniform.
“He pitched really well tonight,” Doolittle said, “and that might be just what he needed to get on a roll for us.”