It’s never a pleasant experience for major league ballplayers when one of their struggling teammates gets sent to the minors.
In close clubhouses, most of these guys are friends, or friendly anyway. And, frankly, many of them have been through the same situations.
It’s possible no one in an Orioles uniform has a better understanding of what Jake Arrieta is going through right now than fellow right-hander Jason Hammel.
Arrieta, 27, was sent to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday after posting a 6.63 ERA in four starts. He has tremendous ability, but has not been able to throw strikes consistently at the major league level.
Hammel has been there.
“I know exactly how he feels,” said Hammel, who was the Orioles’ Opening Day starter this year at age 30. “Honestly, he reminds me a lot of myself. It was three or four years of impressive stuff and inconsistent results. And it was frustrating.”
Hammel made his debut with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 and was 0-6 with a 7.77 ERA in nine starts. In his first six seasons in the major leagues, he posted an ERA under 4.60 once.
The Rays traded him to the Colorado Rockies in 2009, thinking he would never realize his potential. The Rockies dealt him to the Orioles in 2012 after they had demoted him to the bullpen the previous year. With the Orioles last season, Hammel nearly made the American League All-Star team and posted a 3.43 ERA despite missing about 10 starts to a knee injury.
“For me, it was well-documented now that it was just a different focus for me when I was on the mound,” Hammel said.
While in Colorado in 2011, Hammel found help from then-Rockies bullpen coach Jim Wright, who worked with Hammel to block out all disruptions and just pitch. He had him throw side sessions to a glove propped up on sandbags. All Hammel had to do was hit the target.
That exercise, he believes, allowed him to have tunnel vision for a catcher’s mitt.
Things have clicked for Hammel. And he thinks things will click for Arrieta, who has had problems shaking off adversity within a game.
“It’s not physical with him,” Hammel said. “It’s just a matter of finding a way for him to repeat things and, when he gets into trouble, to kind of step back and find something he can go to that he can get himself back to Step 1 again.”
It took Hammel 10 years of professional ball, and parts of seven seasons in the majors, before he was getting consistent results. And he believes Arrieta is too good and works too hard not to achieve the same.
“He is one of the hardest working guys I have ever seen. He will get it figured out,” Hammel said. “But it is frustrating. He has such great stuff. And he definitely will be of value here. He still is. It’s just tough to watch other guys go through it.”