LOS ANGELES – Cubs manager Joe Maddon dropped a “seminal moment” on the impressive relief outing Saturday by rookie Rob Zastryzny.
But the only reason the left-hander was pitching in the third inning against the Dodgers marked a more significant seminal moment in the relationship between the Cubs and veteran pitcher Jason Hammel.
Hammel, who became the early-hook whipping boy the second half of last season as he came back from a leg injury, was pulled from Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Dodgers just one out into the third.
He was visibly angry when Maddon approached the mound to remove him, sought answers during a closed-door meeting with the manager after the game and didn’t hide his irritation talking to media afterward.
“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind. I barely threw 40 pitches,” said Hammel, who actually threw 39, and kept his postgame answers to even fewer syllables. “It was a side day for me pretty much.”
As recently as Friday, Maddon was asked about the future of his rotation in the context of the team putting newcomer Mike Montgomery in the mix for next year and understanding all five starters from this year would be back – if the Cubs pick up Hammel’s option.
Maddon deferred to the front office.
But it’s becoming clear where Hammel stands in the Cubs’ plans beyond this season.
The veteran right-hander, who has been a significant part of the rotation’s MLB-leading success this year, already was all but assured of falling short of the 200 innings needed to turn his $12 million club option for 2017 into a mutual option, even before combining for just 5 2/3 innings his last two starts.
It would become a club option with a $2 million buyout, which makes the likeliest courses of action to buy him out or, more likely, pick up the option and shop him in a winter pitching market thin on free agent starters.
For now, on this day, Maddon said the quick hook was all about a left-leaning lineup that only figured to keep hitting Hammel, and an opportunity to see what the rookie could do in a game that was still close.
“Of course he didn’t like what I told him, but I had to tell him,” Maddon said of the meeting with Hammel. “He was not happy with me taking him out that early.
“And that’s cool. I’m not going to make an excuse why I did what I did. It has nothing to do with lack of confidence or any of these other issues. It was the right thing do to today, based on what I saw, what their lineup looked like, and Rob Z’s availability.”
Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) said he counted only two hard hits against him: a first-inning homer by No. 2 hitter Corey Seager and a third-inning leadoff double by Andrew Toles.
“Other than that I feel like their hits found the holes. It is what it is,” said Hammel, whose relationship with Maddon goes back to early in his career at Tampa Bay.
Hammel – who was 6-0 with a 0.95 ERA his first six starts out of the All-Star break – refused to detail his postgame meeting with Maddon or how he felt about it afterward.
“There’s no reason for that to be in the papers,” he said. “It’s a professional way of looking at it. So we’re going to leave it at that.”
He did say his issue Saturday had nothing to do with anything that happened last year. As for whether it was about broader issues than the one-day considerations Maddon described, Hammel said: “That’s a topic that’s between me and Joe.”
At the very least, Maddon’s actions with Hammel over the last 13 months can’t bode well for their relationship, or the right-hander’s rotation status moving toward tough October decisions.
As Hammel said when asked about whether he’d dealt with the pattern of quick hooks at other career stops: “I’m not going to talk about that. It’s just ridiculous. We can stop asking that question.”