OAKLAND – It’s got to feel somewhat isolating to be a starting pitcher on a new team.
The best way to fit in is to contribute to the winning cause, but your chance to do so only comes up once every five days. Endure an off-night, and your only option is to wait for that chance to come around again.
That’s where A’s right-hander Jason Hammel finds himself right now. Two starts into his Oakland career, Hammel has yet to find his comfort zone since coming over in a trade from the Chicago Cubs along with fellow starter Jeff Samardzija.
Hammel’s work day was short and not-so-sweet in Saturday night’s 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. He lasted just two-plus innings, gave up two homers and five runs and took the loss on a night that began with such promise as the A’s honored their 1989 World Series championship squad.
Afterward, Hammel was straightforward with his explanation of what went wrong.
“I’m not pitching like myself right now,” he said. “I need to get back to what I do well, and that’s fastball command and pitch off that with the slider. This will be one I go home and forget. … Short memory. Come back and get back to work tomorrow.”
Manager Bob Melvin also gave a simple diagnosis of Hammel’s problems.
“Just early on his command of the heater wasn’t very good, and he got in some bad counts and then he had to pay.”
Hammel’s debut with the A’s on July 9 against the Giants wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. He gave up three runs (two earned) and walked three in five innings. He experienced a weird cramp in his left thumb toward the end of that outing, a freakish occurrence that he said is no longer an issue.
This time, the damage was more severe. And as Hammel mentioned, it started with shaky fastball command that put him in unfavorable counts. But perhaps there was more to it.
Hammel spent the previous two seasons in the Orioles rotation, so he was facing a lineup that’s quite familiar with what he tries to do on the mound. The top five hitters in Baltimore’s lineup were a combined 12-for-22 with seven runs and seven RBI (though Adam Jones accounted for five of those RBI by himself).
Hammel was honest when asked if this start had extra meaning facing his old team. He left Baltimore as a free agent after last season and signed a one-year deal with the Cubs.
“You like to show them something that they’re missing,” he said of the Orioles. “But they got the best of me tonight. There was outstanding energy out there tonight, with the whole pregame thing. It was a lot of fun. I was just disappointed to send them home with an ‘L’ there.”
And the sellout crowd of 36,067 unleashed the boos when he gave up Chris Davis’ RBI double in the third that put Baltimore up 5-0.
That’s where Hammel – and Samardzija, for that matter – are in an unenviable position. A’s fans know their team gave up its top two prospects – including a potential superstar in shortstop Addison Russell – as part of the package to get the pair of starters (right-hander Dan Straily also went to Chicago in the deal).
Giving up that kind of talent requires an immediate return on investment in the eyes of many fans. That can only come in the form of victories, or strikeouts, or some combination of the two, from Hammel and Samardzija.
Hammel knows the deal. He’ll get back to work, as he said, and wait for his next opportunity to right himself in five days. Surely it’s a chance that can’t come soon enough for him.