Photo courtesy of Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.
The Baltimore Orioles (74-59) have been missing an important link in their ever-changing starting rotation over the last two months, although you wouldn’t be able to tell by glancing at their impressive record.
Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) was putting together the best season of his career before a knee injury sidelined him with surgery on July 15. At the time, he sported an 8-6 record with a 3.54 ERA, not to mention he was leading the Orioles starters in wins and ERA when he landed on the DL.
Although Hammel lasted with the team until the All-Star break, he should have pulled himself of the rotation sooner. Over his last four outings, he went 0-4 and allowed 17 earned runs over just 19.2 innings of work (7.97 ERA).
Prior to his four-game losing streak, Hammel was on a roll. After he tossed eight strong innings of one-run ball (which was unearned) and picked up his eighth win of the year against the Nationals, he fell apart. On June 22 he was 8-2 with a 2.61 ERA over his first 14 starts of the year.
Right out of the gate, Hammel jumped out to a great start with his new team. He debuted on April 8 against the Twins. He tossed an impressive eight innings of work and allowed just one earned run as he received his first victory with the Birds.
There is no doubt that Hammel is one of the main reasons why the Orioles had so much success in the first half of the year. He was their balance at the top of the rotation, and they need him back for the last month of the season.
Check out my five reasons why the Orioles will overcome the Yankees in the AL East when Hammel returns to the starting rotation.
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Over the first three months of the season, Hammel was pitching with the best of the best around the majors. He sat among the top leaders in wins and ERA and was on pace to win about 16 games on the year—which would have been a new career-high for the right-hander out of Colorado.
Hammel has hit the double-digit mark in wins on two different occasions in his career, both with the Rockies. In 2009, his first year with Colorado, he went 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA over 34 outings (30 starts).
He followed his ’09 performance, which had been his best season to date, with another strong year. In 2010, he posted a 10-9 record with a 4.81 ERA. Now, remember, he pitched half of his games in Colorado, where the thin air is known to provide lift for more home runs. So, an ERA in the fours should not be alarming for a hurler who tosses 15 games in the Mile High city.
Before the injury, Hammel was within just two games of tying his most career-wins in a season; but there is still time for him to come back and pick up three wins to break that 10-win high. Hammel will most likely make four to five starts over the remaining month.
The right-hander is slated to return on Thursday night when the first-place Yankees make their final visit to Camden Yards as they begin one of the most important series of the year.
Photo courtesy of Greg Fiume/Getty Images.
By the end of June, Hammel was clearly putting together the best season of an Orioles pitcher and had pitched well enough to earn the tag ace of the pitching staff. However, since he missed the last month-and-a-half of the year, Wei-Yin Chen (12-8, 3.79ERA) has taken over that role.
Some might be skeptical and worried about his return. Will he try to do too much and regain his title as the ace of the staff? Hopefully, friend competition continues between Chen and Hammel, and they are able to feed off of each other.
At the time of his departure, Chen was 7-5 with a 3.80 ERA, and he turned it up. Currently, Chen sports a team-leading 12-8 record and a strong 3.79 ERA.
Chen has evolved into the Orioles’ new ace out there and has really taken the role Hammel played over the first three months—a surprising, out-of-nowhere pitching phenom.
No one expected Hammel to come out and pitch so well at the beginning of the year. Jake Arrieta began the year as the ace, and there was no consideration that the former Ray and Rockie would be even among the top three pitchers on the Orioles staff.
I think his return will force competitiveness and a sense of stability back to the Birds rotation. Without Hammel, they have used a number of call-ups and rookies to fill the holes including Miguel Gonzalez, Steve Johnson, Tommy Hunter and recently acquired Joe Saunders.
At the beginning of the year, the Orioles rotation looked like this: Arrieta, Hammel, Chen, Brian Matusz and Hunter. Hopefully, Hammel will be able to add a sense of relief to the ever-changing rotation in his return. Hammel and Chen will be the leaders of the rotation.
Photo courtesy of Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
The third reason why Hammel’s return will push the Orioles past the Yankees come the end of September is that he will make everyone around him pitch better.
Hammel has a sense of calmness about him and wears that on his sleeve. You rarely see him react on the mound, and he always has great composure. He is definitely a role model when he is out there. He took Chen under his wing before he landed on the DL.
Hopefully, with his return, he will be able to take rookie-sensation Gonzalez (6-3, 3.31 ERA) under his wing and guide him through his first September in the majors. Let’s also not forget that Chen has never pitched in an MLB pennant race, nor has he pitched in September.
Hammel should serve as a mentor and teacher over the remaining month of the year. Although Hammel is 3-3 with a 4.74 ERA over his last three Septembers, he knows how to pitch at the end of the year.
He has played for winning teams in the past. He was with the Rays in 2008 when they burst onto the scene and made a run at the playoffs. He was also a member of the ’09 Rockies, who made won the wild card for the second time in the last three years.
Chen, Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton really do not have much experience pitching in the last month of the season. Tillman is the only current starter who has toed the rubber in September, and he has only made nine career starts.
The Orioles are banking on the fact that Hammel will be that rock this month and will provide the rotation with a map toward the playoffs.
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The Orioles are quietly making their move and push toward the playoffs, and besides their recently resurgent offense, their starting pitching stepped up their game in August.
Last month, the Birds rotation sported an 18-9 record in 27 contests with a 3.69 ERA, which ranked them fifth in the American League in starting pitching. The previous month was a completely different story.
In July, as Hammel struggled in his three outings before his departure, the rest of the rotation spiraled out of control as well. Over the 27 games in the month, they sported a 13-14 record with a 4.61 ERA; the only month of the year in which they have a sub-.500 record.
With the exception of Saunders and his first outing with the Birds, the Orioles’ starting pitchers have been pitching very well over the last month or so. Hopefully, Hammel can return to the rotation and fit right back into where he left off at the end of June.
The Birds need Hammel to return to the rotation and regain his role as the ace of the staff. With Chen pitching well and leading the way in his absence, I think it will only fuel his comeback.
Hammel wants to win, and with the Birds starters pitching well, I think it will only help Hammel make his return to the rotation.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross/Getty Images.
Although Hammel has only made one postseason start, he still has experience pitching in October baseball. I’m sure there is nothing like it, and he will remember the experience for the rest of his career.
With that being said, he is one of the only pitchers on the Orioles staff to pitch in the playoffs. Recently acquired veteran Randy Wolf definitely has been around for a playoff game or two, however he will mostly be used out of the 'pen.
Hammel tossed 3.2 innings and allowed four earned runs, including one home run, in his only appearance in the playoffs in 2009.
Regardless of the fact that he does not have a fancy record or a sparkling ERA in October baseball, he has been there before, which is more than most Orioles starters can say.
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