WASHINGTON — In the end, it was nothing more than a parting shot.
Pulled from the Cubs’ 7-2 victory over the Nationals on Friday after giving up a leadoff double in the seventh inning, Jason Hammel fumed about a pitch-count issue raised two months ago by Jeff Samardzija and discussed privately by Cubs pitchers since.
“I have no idea why I came out of the game [at the 92-pitch mark],” Hammel, who was working with a 4-1 lead at the time, said unsolicited. “I honestly believe you learn how to pitch when you get to 100 pitches. If you’re not allowed to reach that, I think that’s hurting you more than helping you. I guess it is what it is right now.”
Hammel’s decision to air feelings he acknowledged are shared by others on the staff gave a rare glimpse into some of the tension within the Cubs’ rebuilding transition — even during this feel-good 25-19 run since mid-May that includes four consecutive victories to start an 11-game road trip.
Especially when it comes from a guy who repeatedly has said nothing but good things about the city and the team and given the organization reason to believe he might be willing to return even after being traded to the Athletics with Samardzija late Friday.
“I can understand [strict limits] for maybe a minor-league guy. But we’re up here trying to win,” Hammel said. “I know it’s not [manager] Ricky [Renteria’s] fault. I think it’s coming from somewhere else. But I prepare myself to go out there and pitch deep into ballgames, and if you can’t even get to 100 pitches … . It’s basically a cap on what we can do. Why are we going out there, honestly, if it’s just, ‘You’re going to get this many pitches. It doesn’t matter what the situation is’? It’s just very frustrating.”
Tight pitch counts aren’t new to Hammel, who came up in the pitching factory of the Rays’ system and wasn’t allowed to throw 100 until his 10th career start, which came in his second big-league season. He still hasn’t thrown more than 118 pitches in any of his 175 career starts for four teams.
But that doesn’t mean he was on the same page with the Cubs’ policies.
“This is the most severe I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “All I can say is that it’s frustrating, especially when you feel good. Honestly, there’s no reason for me to go back out there [in the seventh] if I’m just going to give up a runner and then get pulled. That really makes no sense.”
Renteria denied the decision involved a pitch count or that he’s operating under an arbitrary-number policy for his starters.
“He worked pretty hard, and I know he felt good,” Renteria said. “We had a fresh pen, and I just felt like we were going to bring in our relievers and go ahead and finish it out. It had nothing to do with pitch counts. It was just the game.”