After rough stretch, Jason Hammel looks to turn it around tonight

In his first six starts this season, Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel pitched to an ERA of 3.79 and American League batters hit just .244 off him. In his last three starts, his ERA is 10.43 and opponents are batting .409.

Hammel gave up seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings Friday against Tampa Bay. Over the past three starts, he has gone 14 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and 17 earned runs.

What is going on with the O's opening night starter right now? For one thing, Hammel insists his struggles are not about his delivery.

"It's not mechanical at all," he said yesterday. "You try to mess with things that are pretty sound, you'll get yourself in even more trouble."

Some feel Hammel recently has taken the burden of being the staff's No. 1 pitcher to the mound, and as the rotation began to struggle, he put too much pressure on himself. He would probably agree with that assessment.

"There are 25 great players in this room and all of us want the best for ourselves and the team," he said. "If it is not coming out and really working, it makes you want to try harder. But honestly that is kind of hurting yourself. It makes you do things out of your ability. Just need to go out and compete."

In his most recent side session, Hammel continued to work on fastball command and trying to keep his keep pitches down in the zone to begin to get more groundball outs.

"This last (side session), all I did was throw fastballs, because that is what I've been struggling with, the fastball. Sometimes you have to go back to basics," he said.

"It is not necessarily the (lack of) sink, but my pitches are up in the zone. Two-seamer has been good at times, but the misses overall with all pitches have just been too hittable up in the zone and badly executed. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with my pitches, but they've just been too hittable right now.

"The hardest part of the game is the mental side. If you start to try to do too much, you bring other things on that you may not be ready to handle. You have to simplify it and do what you did to get to that point."

So after giving up 15 earned runs in 35 2/3 innings over his first six starts, he has allowed 17 in 14 2/3 frames over the last three.

But despite those recent struggles, the Orioles are 7-2 when Hammel starts this season. If he can get back on track tonight it would be a big boost for a starting staff that got one from Miguel Gonzalez last night and could get one tomorrow night from Kevin Gausman.

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