Hammel talks about the opening day assignment

SARASOTA, Fla. - So how’s that for a flurry of activity today?

Just wait until the Orioles actually play a game tonight.

Jason Hammel finally had the freedom to talk about his opening day assignment on April 2. Manager Buck Showalter was impressed that the right-hander waited until reporters already had been notified before discussing it.

It’s also the little things that get noticed around here.

“It’s an honor,” Hammel said. “I’m very excited. Basically, what it means is I get to be the one to get us off on the right foot. I don’t take that lightly. Very confident to come out and win there.

“I knew it was a possibility, but I just wanted to take care of what I could take care of and make sure I was going to be healthy so I could even pitch sometime at the beginning of the season. It worked out and I’ve kind of been mentally preparing for it, so it’s something I’ll cherish and give it our all from Game One.”

Hammel went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts with the Orioles after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in early February 2012 for pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. He underwent surgery on his right knee after a July 13 start and didn’t return to the rotation until Sept. 6. He was shut down after two appearances until the postseason.

Hammel, 30, will be facing the team that brought him to the majors in 2006. Does this start hold more meaning because of the connection?

“Honestly, I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “If it would have happened two or three years ago when more of the guys I still knew were there, then yeah. It’s crazy how baseball comes full circle, what they’re missing out on or if you want to word it that way. It doesn’t even matter. It’s nice to be able to be given that opportunity.”

It came to him because his knee no longer restricts him in any way.

“Yes, I’m very happy to say I made it through healthy,” he said. “That was my main concern after last year. It was the first time I dealt with an injury that long and I feel like I’ve come back stronger from it. I may not have pitched in many Grapefruit League games, but I was able to get the work in I needed to.”

It also came to him because of adjustments he made in the Rockies bullpen after being pulled from the rotation.

“It’s nice to see the hard work come to fruition, things that you’ve worked so hard for and really not see the results and then finally have the switch, I guess you could say, click on and you know, hit the ground running,” he said. “Now it’s something I can hold on it and continue to improve it, so I still think the best is yet to come.”

Hammel threw five innings today in a Single-A game on the Camden Yards field, allowing three runs and three hits, with three walks and six strikeouts. He threw 76 pitches, 47 for strikes.

“I was able to work on stuff today better than my last time out,” he said. “My slider was very good today. Curveball was better. And I threw enough pitches to keep the stamina right where it is, so I feel good.”

This spring has been about proving his knee is sound and building up his arm strength.

“We’ve accomplished both of those things and everything else seems to be falling in line pretty well,” he said.

Hammel said he feels the same at this point of the spring as he did last year, because the knee isn’t an issue.

“I just have a two-seamer this time that I’m confident in,” he said. “so that’s the only difference.”

The clubhouse if filled with guys who are eager to break camp and get this season under way.

“Don’t you see us in there? We want to get out of here,” Hammel said, smiling.

“Sarasota’s been good to us, but after a while it gets pretty monotonous. After you get into shape, you’re ready to go. Usually, you have a week or something left and you’re trying to kill time. It’s not like we’re just going out here and rolling the balls out, but we’re ready to start playing for real, playing for keeps.”

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