Cubs starter Jason Hammel knew he enjoyed pitching in Chicago, knew his rapport with pitching coach Chris Bosio was exceptional, but not even Hammel could have expected 69 strikeouts and only seven walks through 10 starts this season.
The right-hander pitched another impressive 6 2/3 innings Monday to beat the Marlins 5-1 in the opener of a three-game series in Miami – striking out 11 without a walk and allowing just five hits.
Three of the hits were singles in the fourth that led to the only run against him.
“He was outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he got better game in progress.”
The only thing that prevented Hammel’s fifth consecutive start of at least seven innings was an error by shortstop Starlin Castro with one out in the seventh.
“I really did not want to take him out of there, obviously,” said Maddon, who went to left-hander James Russell for the final out of the inning after lefty hitting Ichiro Suzuki went up to pinch hit.
Hammel (4-2) has a 2.82 ERA.
Maddon said it all starts with Hammel’s fastball command, which was something he struggled with as a young pitcher early in his career with Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays.
“I had to learn after a while that if you walk guys and put guys on you’re putting yourself in trouble,” said Hammel who struck out 11 – all swinging – without a walk Monday. “So I found success in the strike zone instead of outside the strike zone.”
And returning to Chicago as a free agent over the winter following his July trade didn’t hurt.
“I felt good here last year,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”