Last year, Jason Hammel went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA. He was part of the Final Vote to be an All-Star. He started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees and gave the Orioles a chance to win. He was unquestionably the Orioles ace.
This year, well, not so much.
Jason Hammel has been easily the biggest disappointment for the Orioles, and is now the weak link in the starting rotation. What a difference one year makes. Hammel does have seven wins, but he hasn’t won since Memorial Day, and his ERA has skyrocketed to 5.24. He has already given up more earned runs and home runs than he did all of last year, in just one less start.
The hope remains that he can turn his season around, and his first opportunity is tonight, in his first start since the All-Star break. Hammel is 1-2 in four career starts against the Royals and hasn’t won in his two starts at Kauffman Stadium. That being said, he has had success against members of the current Royals lineup. Alex Gordon is hitless in six at-bats against Hammel. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have just two combined hits against him in ten total plate appearances.
Hammel’s struggles have been primarily as he progresses over the course of a game. Opponent batting averages jumps from .242 to .303 between the hitter’s second and third plate appearance of a game. Similarly, opponent batting average against Hammel rises from .246 to .310 from the fifth to the sixth inning, and then up to .435 in the seventh. In Hammel’s most recent start, on July 13 against Toronto, he had given up just one run going into the sixth inning. Then, he gave up two runs in the sixth and three more in the seventh, ruining what had been to that point a good outing. If he’s able to avoid those late-inning debacles, he should be in better shape, especially against a team like the Royals.
The Orioles will be seeing a familiar face when they step into the batter’s box tonight, as former Orioles southpaw Bruce Chen will pitch for the Royals. Chen has had some success since leaving the Orioles back in 2006. Coming into this year, he had won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons for the Royals. This year, however, Chen had been used exclusively out of the bullpen until July 12, when he made his first start of the year. On that night in Cleveland, he shut-out the Indians, limiting them to one hit over six innings of work.
Tonight, Chen will be making his seventh career start against his former team, going 2-3 with a 5.18 ERA in that time. The most experienced Orioles hitter against Chen is Danny Valencia, who has eleven hits in twenty career at-bats against him, including seven runs driven in. Valencia is the DH tonight. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Manny Machado have all hit home runs off of Chen. Also, J.J. Hardy is a .364 with 3 RBI’s against him.
In this second game of four between the Orioles and Royals, the key will surely be Jason Hammel’s attempt to return to his old form. If he can keep his pitch count low, which he’s had trouble doing in the past, he could be able to avoid his late-inning troubles. If not, the former Orioles ace could be in for another long evening.