HOUSTON – Past the point of sugarcoating subpar outings, Jason Hammel spoke bluntly about Wednesday’s disastrous start at Minute Maid Park.
“You can see it all for yourself,” Hammel said after the A’s 8-1 loss to the Astros. “I’m leaving pitches up. I just keep making the same mistakes over and over … It’s ridiculous. I just continue to do the same thing over and over again. It’s like insanity, expecting a different result.”
[RELATED: Instant Replay: Hammel falls to 0-4 with A's]
Hammel did his best to comb through his previous three outings with Oakland to emphasize the positives. But there’s no denying it’s been an extremely poor body of work for the right-hander since the A’s acquired him and Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs on July 5.
He was tagged for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings Wednesday, including six in a 44-pitch first inning that all but sealed the A’s fate. In four starts, Hammel has posted a 9.53 ERA with 18 earned runs, 26 hits and 10 walks allowed in just 17 innings.
Everyone in an A’s uniform agrees that Hammel’s problem is simple – he’s leaving too many hittable pitches up in the zone and getting punished for it. But he’s having trouble reversing the problem with each trip to the mound, and suddenly the A’s find themselves in a quandary with their starting rotation.
It seemed their heavy lifting was done in regard to starting pitching after they swung the trade that landed Samardzija and Hammel, a move meant to solidify the A’s chances of defending their American League West championship. But Hammel, to this point, is proving a detriment each time he takes the mound given his statistics.
With Thursday’s 1 p.m. trade deadline fast approaching, do the A’s need to consider a last-minute deal to add even more pitching? Several national reports have linked them to Boston left-hander Jon Lester. The Red Sox would prefer a power hitter in return, but it’s believed that a bundle of prospects might do the trick.
A’s officials have been very tight-lipped regarding their intentions, and even if they are pursuing Lester, whether they could offer a package attractive enough to land him (or another quality starter) is another issue.
Should the A’s stick it out with Hammel? Catcher Derek Norris expressed confidence in him after Wednesday’s game.
“Everyone knows he’s got good stuff. It’s just got to be down in the zone,” Norris said. “ Whenever his stuff is up in the zone, it hangs. Hitters hit that, especially at this level. But we all believe in him. We’re just looking forward to him bouncing back and being the guy we know he can be.”
Norris added: “You feel for a guy like that. At the same time, we’re at a level now where we can’t sit around and feel pity for people for too long. You’ve just got to go out and do your job. He’s going to come around.”
After the six-run first, Hammel strung together three good innings in a row and kept the ball down.
“Long story short, I was pissed off,” he said.
Manager Bob Melvin was asked after the game if Hammel will make his next start, which would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
“I certainly expect him to, yeah,” Melvin said. "We have what we have. Right now, until there’s changes, that’s what I expect to do.”
The A’s have the luxury of internal options if they wanted to give someone else a crack. Tommy Milone was pitching extremely well at the time he was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento – one of two pitchers demoted to make room in the rotation for Hammel and Samardzija (Brad Mills was the other, and he’s no longer with the organization).
But Milone has given up six runs in two of his past three outings with Sacramento. Lefty Drew Pomeranz has been sharp in his past two starts for the River Cats, surrendering just three runs over 14 innings.
Stat worth remembering: Hammel is 13-32 with a 5.48 ERA after the All-Star break over his career.
“My side sessions have been great. My execution on the side is great, so it’s obviously frustrating, confusing,” he said. “But I just gotta continue working. As long as I have the ball in my hand, I’m going to give you my best.”