ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel will make his first career Opening Day start this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays. In today’s Baltimore Sun, Hammel talked about how the progress he made once he was demoted to the bullpen in the final weeks of the 2011 season in Colorado changed his career for the better.
The 30-year-old Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts last season, winning eight of his first 10 starts, but he missed nearly seven weeks after arthroscopic right-knee surgery and then reaggravated the injury in September. Hammel returned to start Games 1 and 5 of the American League Division Series, holding the Yankees to two runs over 5 2/3 innings in both games.
As the Orioles prepare to open the season with Hammel on the mound today, here are some snippets from an interview with Hammel from spring training:
On being the Orioles Opening Day starter:
The simple answer is that I’ve always wanted that role. I’ve always wanted that responsibility. I did it in the minors – it s a different scneario there obviously – but that’s what I always wanted to be. I wanted to be the workhorse. I wanted to be the guy who was trusted. I felt like I was putting work in and it really didn’t show that I was deserving of that. I’m seeing different things now and I’m confident that I can fill that role. I think being that guy, you represent a leader.
But I’m not going to get caught up in it. Like [Orioles manager Buck Showalter] says, the ace of the staff is the pitcher you start that day. You’re only as good as the pitcher on the mound that day. It’s something I would love to do and it’s an honor and it’s kind of a reward for all the hard work I’ve put in, but still you’ve got to come out and win.”
On his goals for the 2013 season:
Win it all. That’s the only goal. But 200 innings, that’s an established workhorse. 200 innings they know theyre going to get 7-8 innings out of a guy every time out and that’s what we need. With as many innings as the bullpen ate up late year, they need that guy they can count on so they can be like, ‘Hey we might be able to take a night off here or we might just need a couple guys throwing.’ So 200 innings, that’s my only [personal] goal, because I know if im pitching 200 innings I know theyre going to be quality innings anf the rest will control itself.
On his right-knee being healthy:
“It completely changed what I was doing on the mound, so it’s nice to have my lower half back. It basically allows me to continue what I was doing before the injury and I was off and running up until that point. It felt gret and now that it’s back to where I fee strong, I really feel that I think I can get better. So it’s not even a thought anymore. Even going out running I had a couple—two or three PFP plays that were tough plays -- I had to move quick and get the ball quick and plant on it and it was fine. It’s in the rear view mirror.”
On his reaction when he was traded to the Orioles last February:
First of all I was shocked because it came six days before spring. Me and my wife [Elissa] sat back in the early offseason and we were like theres a chance we might get traded because there were rumors swirling that the rockeis were going to be changing things up. We saw a couple guys either move or sign. Once we got through Christmas, I thought ok pretty sure not going anywhere and then I wnet to fanfesty and im thinking ok I’m definitely here and then we get the call after super bowl Sunday. Hey Jason we’ve traded you to the Baltimore Orioles. I was like ‘What? This late?”
On meshing in the Orioles clubhouse:
Once I got here, they gave me all the confidence in the world and I was like wow here we go. I knew it was going to be fun. The guys here are so young and we had so many things in common. It was just a great clubhouse. Duquette came in and for a guy who had been out of the game for a while, for him to get me for an established front-line guy was also a confidence booster too. I thought for sure that he thought he traded for Cole Hamels and not Jason Hammel. I don’t know if he really knew what he was getting, but it all worked out.
On why it didn’t work out for him in Tampa Bay:
My eyes were wide open. I was kind of taking it all in. That was just the innocence of being a young guy in the big leagues. You’re happy to be there, you want to prove to people that you belong there but all the other stuff you havent experienced is hitting you right in the face. You’ve got to grab it and run with it or you let things happen. I kind of got overtaken by the whole experience.
On remaining with the Orioles after becoming a free agent after this season:
I would love to stay put in one place for a long time. It’s obviously for baseball’s sake but it’s also for family and for peace of mind, because constantly not knowing where you’re going to be is tough. One-year deals are tough. It’s still a job, but that comfort and honestly, they’re giving me that here. They’ve given me that this spring training. They’ve given me the chance to work at my own pace and I think it’s really worked. Right now, its my job to come out and and prove  wasn’t a fluke.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun