After Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel completed his first half of the season with his fifth straight defeat in the Orioles' 7-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, manager Buck Showalter tried to positively spin the performance.
Showalter said Hammel gave his team, “a chance to win, for the most part,” and put much of the blame at the feet of an Orioles' offense that managed just three runs and seven hits in what was basically a “bullpen” game for Toronto that featured six Blue Jays pitchers.
Hammel, though, had much sharper words for himself, calling the outing “unacceptable,” and blasting his season in general.
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“The first half, honestly, is unacceptable for me. I'm better than this. And it's on my shoulders. It's on nobody else's,” said Hammel, who is 7-6 with a 5.24 ERA in 19 starts — nearly two runs higher than his 3.43 ERA in 20 starts in 2012. “It's fixable. I've just got to get out of my own way.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Orioles (52-43) and set up a rubber game against the Blue Jays (45-48) on Sunday in the first-half finale.
The All-Star break can't come quickly enough for Hammel, who last year lost in the “Final Vote” in the American League, but this year is simply looking for a mental respite.
“I'm getting as far away from baseball as I possibly can,” Hammel said. “This game can be really frustrating. Nobody else cares. It's a matter of getting out of my own way, take a little break.”
The 30-year-old Hammel earned the nod as the Orioles' Opening Day starter this season and won seven of his first eight decisions despite not consistently exhibiting the crispness on his pitches that he showed last year. The lack of command has caught up to Hammel, who allowed six earned runs, 10 hits and two walks in six-plus innings against the Blue Jays.
“Far too many baserunners. Get behind hitters. Fastball-hitting club that I am feeding fastballs. It's easy to hit when you know what's coming,” said Hammel, who has not won a game since May 27 on the road against the Washington Nationals. “I am not throwing sliders for strikes. Not throwing curveballs where I want them. Changeup is nonexistent. I'm beating myself right now.”
In a calendar year, Hammel has gone from the club's most reliable starter to one of its biggest concerns as the season heads toward the ceremonial second half. He has the highest ERA of any Orioles pitcher that has been in Baltimore all season.
Yet Showalter isn't showing any public lack of confidence in Hammel, whose club has lost six of the last eight games he has started after winning eight of the first 11.
“We haven't won on the day he's pitched. He's pitched some good games. You can go back through that. There are some things that didn't work out,” Showalter said. “But I think it bodes well for the rest of the season because he's capable of better, and I think his best games are ahead of him.”
Pitching before Camden Yards' fifth sellout of the year — a boisterous announced crowd of 46,150 — Hammel had allowed just one costly mistake through five innings: a two-run, 442-foot home run by the Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion seven pitches into the outing. Hammel carried a one-run lead into the sixth before allowing four straight two-out base hits, including J.P. Arencibia's two-run bases loaded single.
Down by a run, Hammel escaped the sixth with a groundout and returned to the mound for the seventh, having thrown 93 pitches. Six pitches into the seventh, he was gone — hitting No. 9 batter Emilio Bonifacio on the back foot and then issuing a four-pitch walk to Jose Reyes.
Hammel slammed the ball into Showalter's hand as he walked away, a sign of his self-inflicted exasperation and not an act of defiance.
“I hate seeing [Showalter] come out, every time in the seventh inning when we've had a lead and I give it back. And I've got to hand the ball over to him, and today was no different,” Hammel said. “Very frustrated. I kind of spiked it into his hand. I was a little [ticked] off. It's frustrating because I know these guys are pulling for me.”
Both inherited runners scored when Jairo Asencio, making just his second appearance for the Orioles, allowed a RBI double to Jose Bautista and Adam Lind picked up an RBI on a fielder's choice against Troy Patton. First baseman Chris Davis initially thought he caught Lind's liner, but the ball kicked off his glove. The Blue Jays scored another run on a fielder's choice for a four-run lead.
It was a sufficient cushion for a Blue Jays' team that headed into Saturday with the second best bullpen ERA in the AL. In fact, their starter, Todd Redmond, whom the Orioles had this spring but waived in late March, may be best suited for relief.
In his fifth outing this season and third career start, Redmond lasted four innings and yielded three runs on solo homers by Davis and Adam Jones, as well as a Brian Roberts' RBI double. It was the second straight game in which Jones had homered and the third straight for Davis, who leads the majors with 36.
That's the second highest number of home runs before the All-Star break in AL history, trailing only Reggie Jackson's 37 for the Oakland Athletics in 1969. The San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds holds the overall record with 39 in the first half of 2001.
After Roberts' fourth-inning double — the club's first run that didn't come from a homer since the eighth inning Thursday — the Orioles' offense was neutralized by Aaron Loup (4-3) and four other relievers who combined for five shutout innings.
“They had the lead; they brought in that shutdown bullpen, and they shut us down,” Jones said.
The Orioles had a chance in the ninth, but Toronto closer Casey Janssen struck out both batters he faced for his 18th save.
The game, though, was lost in the middle innings when Hammel couldn't hold the lead.
His manager said he's still behind him; something Hammel said is “huge.”
But that doesn't alter the sense of urgency, and, ultimately, the overwhelming frustration that Hammel is currently experiencing.
“I do believe the best days are ahead, but it's got to happen fast if we want to make this a championship season,” Hammel said. “I'm a big part of it, and I know that. And I've got to get it right.”