When the Chicago Cubs traded right-hander Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics along with Jeff Samardzija last season, it was an unspoken agreement that he would find his way back to the North Side of Chicago sooner rather than later.
After returning to the Cubs on a two-year, $20 million deal this winter, Hammel got back to work with pitching coach Chris Bosio, who helped the former 10th-round pick pitch some of the best baseball of his career during the first half of 2014. The results the pair have turned in so far this season have been nothing short of downright impressive.
His latest start, which came Tuesday at PETCO Park in San Diego, was a seven-inning effort in which he was charged with a pair of unearned runs in a no-decision. It was one of those games that you know you should win, and Hammel made that perfectly clear in his postgame remarks.
"“We gave them that game, we should’ve won that game. Everything we did tonight, there’s no way we should’ve lost that game.”"
That’s been the case in several of Hammel’s outings this season. In his last three starts, he’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed no more than two earned runs. Despite that, Hammel earned a win in just one of those starts – on May 8 at home against Milwaukee.
Through eight starts, the right-hander has pitched to a 2.70 ERA, 3.03 FIP and 0.919 WHIP – all impressive marks, especially for a guy who is making just $10 million this season.
His WHIP would be a full-season career-best (although we’re just a month-plus into the season), as would his outstanding 8.17 SO/BB ratio, which ranks fourth in all of Major League Baseball, trailing only the ageless Bartolo Colon, Michael Pineda and Max Scherzer.
While Lester has turned things around in a big way in the month of May and Arrieta continues to do his thing as a rejuvenated front-end arm, Hammel seems content to work under-the-radar, painting the black and racking up quality starts.
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Chicago knew what they were getting when they brought the former Orioles’ starter back this offseason, despite his struggles post-trade last season. With the Athletics, Hammel went just 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA and an unsightly 5.10 FIP in 67 2/3 innings – marks that stood in stark contrast to his 2.98 ERA and 3.19 FIP in 108 2/3 innings with Chicago.
The 32-year-old veteran picked right up where he left off with the Cubs, allowing more than three earned runs just one time so far in 2015, while limiting opposing batters to just 43 hits in 53 1/3 innings of work. That equates to roughly 7.3 hits per nine, which is the best mark of Hammel’s career.
One thing is for sure: when Jason Hammel is pitching like he has so far in 2015, a Cubs rotation that was initially considered shaky, by many, looks a lot more formidable – especially if the team manages to clinch a postseason berth this fall. While the back-end has a lot of questions moving forward, the 1-2-3 of Lester, Arrieta and Hammel is amongst the best trios in the National League.