KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel is hoping for a fresh start when he makes his first start after the All-Star break Tuesday night against the Kansas City Royals.
Plagued by inconsistency, Hammel is 0-4 in his past eight starts. He's allowed four or more runs in five of his past eight outings and has allowed 11 homers in that span.
"It's the second half," said Hammel, the Orioles' Opening Day starter after a breakout 2012 season. "This is when it gets fun. I basically didn't have fun much in the first half. I was too busy beating myself up for not doing what I was doing last year. My own high expectations weren't being met in my eyes. I was kind of hurting myself in that way. Now, it's the pennant chase. I wasn't having fun in those first 100 [team games], and this game is about having fun. All it is is execution."
Hammel said his struggles this season are all about fastball command and elevating pitches in the strike zone. The four-day All-Star break allowed Hammel a mental respite, and he believes he can correct those issues.
"You know, for as bad as I think the first half was, I was still doing things well," said Hammel, who is 7-6 with a 5.24 ERA after pitching to a 3.43 ERA last year. "It was just one or two pitches per game where it was really costing me. And it's more or less, when I get into crunch time, it's getting back to that mental preparation that I was so good with of trying not to do too much and just try to execute the pitch. My execution and being ahead of guys, I wasn't executing well. It's more or less limiting those mistakes.
"I'm going to stay aggressive like I always have and work with the fastball and continue to pitch. I've got to limit those mistakes in games, the home runs obviously, they hurt you if you have runners on.
Before Friday's game in Texas, Hammel spent the afternoon in the bullpen working with pitching coach Rick Adair and doing what's called dry work — repeating his motion on the mound without throwing a pitch.
"It's really just staying on top of the rubber and staying behind the ball," Hammel said. "When I'm pitching up in the game, it's usually because I'm amped up and and I'm out throwing the ball before I need to throw the ball. It's nothing mechanical or anything. It's more taking a couple of dry runs and staying over the rubber and then delivering the ball."
Gausman still a bullpen candidate
Right-hander Kevin Gausman had a limit of 70 to 75 pitches in his start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk, his first start since June 19.
Gausman made five relief appearances with the Orioles in his second stint with the big league club, then pitched out of the bullpen in his first outing back in Triple-A.
While the Orioles appear to be committed to allowing Gausman to continue to build innings as a starter in the minors, he's also one of the first options if the club needs bullpen help.
"Just trying to make sure we spread certain guys out and make sure they're all available if there's a need here," manager Buck Showalter said Monday afternoon. "It kind of depends on where our needs are. If we think there's a need, he's one of them. He's not the only guy. We're trying to manage the staff in case all of a sudden there's a need and a guy had thrown 105 pitches and is four days away."
Gausman allowed two runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings Sunday, striking out four and walking two. He threw 70 pitches, 41 for strikes.
"I was looking at the report and it said he threw a lot better than the line," Showalter said. "It said he should have has six or seven strikeouts. … He pitched well."
Finding innings for the pen
A top concern over the first half was the Orioles bullpen accumulating too many innings, but with the way the starters have been pitching lately, t's becoming a challenge to find innings for certain relievers so they can stay in rhythm.
"There's really nothing you can do when your starters are going that deep into games," left-handed reliever Troy Patton said."Every bullpen goes through it. Whether there's a break or not, I'm still going to be expected to peform when I do pitch."
Patton, lefty T.J. McFarland and right-hander Jairo Asencio each went into Monday night's game having not pitched in the since July 13. Lefty Brian Matusz pitched to two batters Sunday, but before that he hadn't worked since July 12.
"Some of them actually benefit from [the rest]," Showalter said. "It's not always a negative thing it's presented as. I think we're so far into the season that guys don't get that out of sync much. Unfortunately, it will present itself. It's one of the byproducts of our starting pitching going deep in the game. They've all warmed up, they're all throwing, but there's no substitute going into the game."
Around the horn
Right-hander Steve Johnson (oblique strain) will report to short-season Single-A Aberdeen to continue his rehabilitation. … Heading into play on Monday, the Orioles were one of five major league teams that were at least four games over .500 at both home and on the road. … Nick Markakis entered Monday's game hitting .381 (32-for-84) against the American League Central, the highest such average in the AL. … Navy linebackers Anthony Lewis and Jordan Drake and slot back DeBrandon Sanders will be signing autographs Friday night at Camden Yards. The players will be signing 2013 Navy football posters and handing out schedule cards on the concourse in front of the Warehouse before the Orioles' game against the Boston Red Sox and through the second inning.