WASHINGTON - Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel has been searching for his fastball command.
Today, he found it.
"The fastball command that I've been searching for has been getting closer and closer and closer, and today it was finally there," he said after holding the Nationals to two runs over eight innings and striking out eight in the Orioles' 6-2 victory.
"A small adjustment I made with my slider added a lot more depth and a lot of swings and misses with that one. Stayed aggressive today."
Was this Hammel's best start?
"For the year, definitely the best start," he said. "It was all because of fastball command. If you can set up your off-speed pitches and breaking pitches with your fastball ... I don't want to pick on (Steve) Lombardozzi, (but) that was my best at-bat of the day. I executed every pitch. Curveballs for strikes and then he fouled off some sliders that were down back foot. I had him guessing. Fastball down and away. Before I wasn't able to make that pitch down and away. I was able to do that all night. I gave up some hits, but they were singles and not terrible pitches. I'm not frustrated with that at all.
"I'm going one game at a time and I'll continue to go one game at a time. I'm not going to get ahead of myself. That's where I got myself in trouble in the past, so every day brings a new day in baseball. We all know that. Today was good."
Hammel had 23 first-pitch strikes. That's very good.
"They've been putting up runs for me all year and kudos to them," he said. "It's a lot easier to pitch when you have the lead than when you're down, honestly. You don't put as much pressure on yourself. But these guys have been doing it all year and the bats continue to stay hot. I was able to stay aggressive in the zone, put it in play, use the fielders and let them go hit.
"Unfortunately, I'm very hard on myself, but everyone is allowed a bad start. You can have a couple bad ones, but it's what you do to continue to get out of it and get better, and the hard work has paid off. I think I picked up some bad habits last year with the injury and kind of worked through those and I think we're in a good place right now."
The last four Orioles starters failed to complete six innings. With the bullpen hurting today, Hammel became the third starter to go eight innings this season, joining Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen.
"We got in kind of late last night, and day game today," he said. "I wanted to go nine, but Buck (Showalter) said the only way I was going nine is if (Yamaico) Navarro in there, I could sac him over. That was the only chance."
Hammel said he wasn't thinking about saving the bullpen.
"I knew that I felt good," he said. "I warmed up well and I was able to throw the fastball where I wanted to, which I haven't done pretty much all year. So I knew things were going to go well. It was whether or not the guys were going to score runs.
"It was a late night and obviously a rough one from yesterday, so just getting to the field, it was a little early. But I knew our guys were going to pull through."
Hammel also laid down a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning that was followed by Nick Markakis' two-run single.
"I'll bunt all day for you," he said. "I'm over the hitting. I had three years of that in the NL and I don't like seeing myself on the other side. It's not fun, so I know that I'm a pitcher and not a hitter. If you want me to go bunt, I'll do that, but otherwise don't expect too much. It's not a comfortable thing to do, to go hit. I don't know how these guys do it."
Coming off a brutal loss in Toronto yesterday, when closer Jim Johnson failed to hold a three-run lead, the Orioles needed this type of outing and result.
"It was huge," Hammel said. "It shows our resiliency and the type of character we have in the clubhouse. One hundred and sixty two games is a long season, so you don't want to dwell on the one from last night, even if it was bad. You've got to push it to the back of your mind and you've got nine fresh innings for the next day. We've got a clubhouse full of those types of guys and we come here and have fun. This is a nice little rivalry we have here."