If you’re an Oakland Athletics fan, you expect damn near perfection from every starting pitcher, every night and hey, why wouldn’t you? That’s pretty much all the starting staff has been through the first half of the season. In his first start as an Athletic, Jason Hammel simply reminded us that pitchers are human too. Coming into his first start against the Giants, the A’s starting pitching had given up just four earned runs over their last 40 innings (including his fellow trade-mate Jeff Samardzija). As if this was not enough, Oakland’s last 6 starters had all gone at least 6 innings in their 6 wins. The last time all of this occurred within an Athletic rotation was 1914, over 100 years ago.
They were bound to come down to earth at some point.
In his first start against his newly acquired “cross-bridge” rival, Jason Hammel was only able to go 5 innings, after giving up six hits and three runs – two earned, while striking out three and walking three. Now, according to A’s fans standards, he had a subpar performance and even Hammel admitted after the game, “Tonight was a grind, and they grinded me pretty good.” What specifically made him frustrated with his outing were the walks and his inability to finish at-bats when he was ahead in the count. “It was just inconsistent command,” Hammel said. “That’s just not me, walking guys. I got myself in trouble putting guys on base, and also putting guys away with two-strike pitches that were too hittable.” It was even more shocking because the newly acquired right-hander hadn’t walked three men in a game since April 16 and his three strikeouts were his lowest total of the year in 18 starts. Despite this “ineffectiveness”, if you take a closer look at his outing, Hammel’s future this season looks as bright as the green and gold he will wear for the remainder of the season.
So what did he show? What did he do that would give Bob Melvin confidence in giving him the ball every fifth day? How does he make the team better?
In two words: HE COMPETES
He demonstrated this against the Giants and is why I personally feel better now that Hammel is in the rotation. In a game where he didn’t have his best stuff (99 pitches over 5 innings), got one run on one hit (HR by Vogt) for offensive support, and had to deal with a thumb cramp that made his left hand look like an arachnid, I was quite pleased with his pitching. Showing his competitive nature on a tough night where his control was not the norm, he kept his team in the ballgame, leaving when it was just 3-1 Giants. From there it got out of hand as the bullpen made sure the A’s could not come back, but in terms of Hammel’s night, he really did not do as bad as many thought he did.
Just like in my previous post about his team and trade-mate, Samardzija , I formed a little “report” about Hammel in order for all A’s fans to become more familiar with his “stuff” in time for his start today:
Pitch #1: Fastball, low 90’s velocity consistently, but can get up to the 94-95 range on occasion. Throws both a four-seam and two-seam (more of a sinker) with same velocity. Two-seam is primary pitch with good arm side run to it and has sinking action. Responsible for most of his outs as he attacks the lower half of the strike zone with it. Four-seam is used mainly to blow past hitters with two-strikes up in the strike zone.
Pitch #2: Slider, with mid 80’s velocity. Out-pitch with two strikes and gets most of his K’s with it. Hard and late bite as it doesn’t sweep as much, but is good compliment to the sinking action he gets from his two-seam. More of an up-down slider and is a plus pitch that gets a lot of swing and misses from both righties and lefties.
Pitch #3: Curveball, upper 70’s to low 80’s velocity. Plays less of a role, but shows it early on in games. More of a “get-me-over” type breaking ball instead of a plus-pitch that many right-handed pitchers throw with two strikes. Occasionally goes to it if the slider isn’t working in any given outing. Has similar break to his slider but is slower and more 12-6.
I think that tomorrow against his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, he will have a bounce back outing, especially since he has shown that he is a competitor. Jason Hammel is the type of guy any team wants in their locker room because he leads by example. He may not be the prototypical, flashy character like many others in the A’s locker room, but I believe he will play a pivotal role in their second-half success.