By his exacting standards, he needs to do more, command his fastball better and last longer than he has this season, especially after establishing himself as the club’s top pitcher in 2012.
Hammel’s personal streak of beating himself up officially ended Monday afternoon, in a 6-2 victory over the Washington Nationals before a sold-out and bi-partisan announced crowd of 41,260 in the nation’s capital.
“For the year, definitely [my] best start,” said a smiling Hammel, who allowed two runs on eight hits and no walks in a season-best eight innings Monday. “It was all because of fastball command.”
Hammel (7-2) continually attacked the zone – throwing 77 of his 107 pitches for strikes – while again dominating the Nationals. He is now 6-0 with a 3.15 ERA in eight career starts against the Nationals and 4-0 with a 3.21 ERA in Nationals Park.
“Good mound. I don’t know. I like it,” said Hammel, whose most recent eight-inning start was last June 22 against the Nats at Camden Yards. “Good park. Maybe it’s just I pitch well here. I don’t know.”
Hammel allowed an RBI double to Tyler Moore in the second inning and an RBI single to Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth. He struck out eight – a season high for him and for any Orioles pitcher. Perhaps, most important for the Orioles, he helped save the club’s usually stout bullpen, which threw 14 innings and gave up 16 runs in the first four games of this road trip in Toronto.
“He was good. He was the difference today. We all would have signed up in blood for that today,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “What are those things where you hold the bats like they do at the wedding chapel? I'm sure the bullpen would have had one of those waiting for him when he came in.”
After a gut-punch, 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday – one in which closer Jim Johnson gave up four runs in 2/3 of an inning to blow his fourth save in five chances – the Orioles needed to quickly move on. Or risk going into another funk like earlier this month.
“Every game is important, especially coming off [Sunday]. I think it makes it a little more important,” said right fielder Nick Markakis, whose two-run single in a three-run fourth put the Orioles ahead. “We know what we are up against. They have a great ballclub over there. And we also have a great ballclub. It’s gonna be a good series.”
Winners of five of their past seven, the Orioles (28-23) evened their all-time road record against the Nationals (26-25) in Washington at 11-11. The Orioles lead the series between the two teams at 24-19.
Hammel’s performance was a perfect complement to an offense that continues to pound opponents. The Orioles put up 15 hits and six runs – the sixth straight game in which they have scored five or more runs. For the first time in club history, the team has scored five or more in 10 consecutive road games.
The Orioles actually set a season high for most runners left on base with 14 on Monday, but it didn’t matter because they got key hits when needed.
Infielder Yamaico Navarro, who had never driven in a run for the Orioles in his previous six games, had two RBI singles Monday.
“He's grinding,” Showalter said of Navarro. “I mean, he's trying to make use of every opportunity he gets.”
Markakis extended his season-long hitting streak to 12 games with two hits, including the two-run, two-out single against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez. It was set up by Hammel’s sacrifice bunt that put runners on second and third.
“It changes the whole approach to that inning,” Markakis, who is hitting .305 on the season, said of Hammel’s sacrifice. “He gets the bunt down, [now it’s] two outs, guys on second and third. It allows the hitter to go up there and be aggressive.”
As has been the case for much of the season, 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado led the offensive attack with three hits, including his major league-leading 23rd double.
“Shoot, 20 years old? That’s pretty impressive,” Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said of Machado. “He’s got a really good swing. He covers the whole plate, he doesn’t hit it to one side of the field. He uses the whole field.”
Much of the damage came against Gonzalez (3-3), who gave up eight hits, four walks and four runs in just 5 2/3 innings in his shortest start this month.
That was plenty for Hammel, who now has allowed just four runs in his past two starts, dropping his season’s ERA to 4.98.
“Unfortunately, I’m very hard on myself. But everyone is allowed a bad start,” Hammel said. “You can have a couple bad ones, but it’s what you do to continue to get out of it and get better and the hard work has paid off.”
The Orioles survived three afternoon games in two different countries, and after Tuesday, will get back to Camden Yards for a five-game homestand.
“It seemed like we were back in spring training with three straight 1 o'clock games. It was a challenge for everybody physically, emotionally and mentally,” Showalter said. “After four tough games in Toronto, I can't tell you how proud I am of everybody. And [Hammel] was outstanding in a much-needed outing.”