ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Hammel is looking for small victories where he can find them, signs of encouragement that indicate things might be pointed in the right direction for him.
Right now, the box score is probably one area he shouldn’t look. The right-hander absorbed his third loss in as many starts as an Athletic with Friday’s 4-1 defeat to the Texas Rangers.
To be fair, it wasn’t a particularly memorable night for anyone in an Oakland uniform. The A’s couldn’t get anything going against right-hander Jerome Williams, who was making his first start with Texas after getting released by the Astros and struggling in his two Triple-A starts with the Rangers. When Oakland did finally break through against Williams in the sixth, a base-running mistake from John Jaso stunted its only scoring rally.
[RECAP: A's drop Texas opener to Rangers]
But Hammel’s fortunes are of obvious importance, because he was acquired in a trade from the Cubs (along with fellow starter Jeff Samardzija) to bolster an Oakland starting rotation that was faring pretty well in the first place. And it’s impossible to ignore that the A’s have a couple quality starting options working in reserve at Triple-A Sacramento in Tommy Milone and Drew Pomeranz.
Hammel’s ERA after three starts with the A’s is 7.11 (10 ER in 12 2/3 IP).
“The easy thing to do here is to start getting down on myself, but I’m not going to do that,” Hammel said. “Lot of good things tonight. Save for a few hard-hit balls, just balls that fell in, a couple walks pushed guys to scoring position. I just didn’t make the quality pitch. I gotta be better with quality pitches.”
Friday’s line wasn’t glaringly bad -- 5 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), 2 walks, 3 strikeouts. But Hammel is making life hard on himself by constantly working with runners on base.
In his three starts with Oakland, he’s notched just one legitimate 1-2-3 inning, and that came in the bottom of the fifth Friday. The fourth inning was 1-2-3 with an asterisk -- Hammel walked J.P. Arencibia but picked him off first for the second out.
He’s still searching for quality command. His bread-and-butter slider was working better against the Rangers, but he missed with fastballs up in the strike zone and it bit him. Hammel struck out Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo to start the bottom of the third, only to watch Elvis Andrus triple to center and Alex Rios single him home to put Texas ahead 2-0.
By the time Hammel left with two outs in the sixth, the Rangers led 4-1.
“I think the stuff is there,” A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie said. “He missed a few spots today and they took advantage of that. He’s always been a really effective guy, and I think he’s going to start locating that stuff and help us where we want to go.”
But how long can, or should, the A’s wait for him to find his form?
Milone was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA at the time of his demotion, which came after Samardzija and Hammel were acquired from Chicago. Milone made news earlier this week when it became public that he requested a trade. But that aside, he was sharp in his last outing for Sacramento, throwing six innings of two-run ball Thursday. Yes, it’s noteworthy that Milone is almost perfectly on turn with Hammel.
“I thought he pitched better (Friday),” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Hammel. “Better mix for me. The first couple innings, looked like he got the ball down, commanded his fastball better, had a sharper slider.”
Asked if every starter in the A’s rotation is currently on stable ground, Melvin replied:
“Well, we traded for him for a reason. He’s had a lot of success. We expect him to.”
But on a staff where starters generally have passed the baton from one guy to the next while delivering effective outings, the 31-year-old Hammel wants to start carrying his share of the load. He hasn’t been the same pitcher he was while going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA with the Cubs.
“The execution hasn’t been there,” he said. “It’s a matter of making those mistakes fewer and fewer and putting yourself in position to succeed.”