It was quite an Orioles debut for right-hander Jason Hammel. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and wound up with a two-hitter over eight as the Orioles beat Minnesota 3-1 to sweep the series.
This was a day where Hammel pretty much had all his pitches going for him.
"Honestly, pretty close," he said. "Haven't been much better than that. I could still be better with my command. Two-seamer is something I just started using again in spring training. Got me behind in counts today, but I was able to battle back and get quick outs after that."
The Twins got back to back doubles to break up the no-hitter and his shutout bid in the eighth. But Hammel got the win with three walks and five strikeouts over 97 pitches.
Today was his 116th career major league start and this was his best ever, he said.
"For sure. For sure," Hammel said. "Had another good one, but I lost that one. Went eight innings, complete game, but lost 1-0. I'll take this any day of the week.
"I was very pleased, obviously. Wheat (Matt Wieters) called an outstanding game. He put fingers down and I threw. Think I shook once. Battled through a couple of control problems for a little bit but the two-seamer helped me out a lot getting sinker, ground ball and quick outs. Very, very happy."
Of the 24 outs Hammel recorded, 16 came via a ground ball. He worked during camp with pitching coach Rick Adair on his two-seam fastball, a pitch he pretty much gave up on at times last year. But he had it going today as the Twins beat the ball into the ground often.
"That is definitely the most of my career," Hammel said of the 16 ground outs.
He had faced the minimum 21 batters through seven innings when Twins cleanup hitter Justin Morneau doubled to right leading off the eighth. It ended his bid to pitch the sixth no-hitter in Orioles history and began a huge ovation for the 30-year-old right-hander.
"It wasn't that bad of a pitch. Morneau is a good hitter," Hammel said. "It was a changeup that was up a little bit. Oh well, it is what is is."
Hammel was aware throughout the afternoon that he had not allowed a hit. But after the fifth he began to ponder adding his name to the O's record book.
"Once I got through the sixth. Obviously, I'm not scoreboard watching, but after a while you realize, we're moving along here pretty quick," he said. "Was getting a lot of ground balls and the pitch count was down, so I took a look and obviously I knew it for the whole game but sixth inning it probably set in."
Hammel said this will certainly boost his confidence to pitch so well in his first game with his new club. He also pointed out how he turned around his game and his mental outlook late last season with Colorado. He had pitched to ERA of 7.94 in August and even had lost his rotation spot. But he went out and posted a 1.80 September ERA to get back on track.
"It's huge. It was a pleasure to come out and do that for the fans. First time they've seen me. I don't feel like I have anything to prove with them but they sure knew what was going on and they backed me up pretty good," Hammel said.
"What I did in spring training and at the end of last year was a huge help. Changed my focus on the mound. I was starting to wander, think of the wrong things instead of what I could do. It's really changed my game a lot."
He also had begun to work hard with pitching coach Rick Adair on his two-seam pitch which is what he used today so well to get all the groundballs.
"Just small, small adjustments I made with Rick in my windup and delivery. He said 'I bet you can throw a two-seamer now.' I told him I had pretty much put it in my back pocket in Colorado. Couldn't get it to do anything. It is something I'm going to run with now. It's huge," Hammel said.
Hammel's outing ended a weekend where O's starters allowed just 10 hits and three runs (one earned) over 22 innings to pitch to an ERA of 0.41 in the series.
"I think we are pushing each other. You win with starting pitching. Coming out and attacking, we showed we are going to do that and we are going to stick with that," Hammel said.
He was trying to become the first pitcher since Hideo Nomo with Boston on April 4, 2001, to pitch a no-hitter in his first game for his new team. That outing came here at Camden Yards against the Orioles.
Today, Hammel came close to pitching one for the Orioles. He didn't get it, but said he had no disappointment over that.
"Not at all, no disappointment there," he said. "It was one crack at it but I feel I'm going to be around this game long and I'm sure I'll have another chance at it."