WASHINGTON – Barely 11 months ago, Jason Hammel stood in the same clubhouse wondering why he was pulled early from a strong start instead of talking, like he did Saturday, about the chance he had to finish one.
Within hours of that start last year, he was traded to Oakland, a Fourth of July deal that turned his world upside-down, his pregnant wife distraught and in tears over the shock.
This trip to Nationals Park?
“I feel like I’m not going to be traded tonight,” he said, smiling, “so that’s good.”
Series like this one against a National League-contending Washington team – games like his 4-2 victory Saturday – are why Hammel was so eager to return to the Cubs as a free agent that he took an below-market, two-year contract.
Since then he has looked enough like an ace that manager Joe Maddon stumped for his right-hander to make the All-Star team after Hammel pitched into the ninth inning. He leads the staff in innings, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and wins.
A home run by Bryce Harper leading off the ninth ended Hammel’s work day but didn’t diminish a streak he pushed to eight starts, during which he has gone 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 60 strikeouts to just eight walks.
“He’s been unbelievably good, consistent, deep into the game, strike-thrower. He’s just been outstanding,” Maddon said. “You talk about pitching at an All-Star quality level, he has. I want to put it out there. I really think that he has to be considered based on [the fact] his performances have been that good.”
Said Hammel, who hasn’t been an All-Star: “It’s a little early. Obviously, it’d be an honor. But I’m not thinking about that. I just want to continue to be consistent. I’m just thinking about winning every game.”
And this time the games actually matter, unlike last year — when he was signed to be the Cubs’ 2014 free agent flip guy during the prospect-collecting process of the team overhaul.
“That’s why I wanted to come back,” he said. “I saw it last year. We were taking strides in the right direction. And then adding a few good components, and we have a good clubhouse. We obviously have some fun. And we’re playing good baseball right now.”
–With the extreme early start time after a night game, shortstop Starlin Castro got his first day off of the season Saturday, with rookie Addison Russell moving over from second base for a day – and sending Twitter abuzz over the long-term future of the Cubs’ middle infield. “It felt normal,” said Russell, who has continued to practice at both short and second since his April 21 debut.
–Right fielder Jorge Soler said he’s been told he’ll have to wear the walking boot on his sprained left ankle for 12 days before restarting baseball activity. He was hurt Monday in Miami running to first.