Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel says he's a much different pitcher from the one who last faced the New York Yankees in 2008.
Through four starts this season, Hammel — acquired in the February trade that sent No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies — has been a surprising success story. He takes a 3-0 record and 1.73 ERA into the Bronx for Monday's series opener, looking to give the Orioles his fourth quality start of the season.
Hammel, who entered the season with a career 4.99 ERA, said he has grown mentally since he was demoted to the Rockies' bullpen at the end of last season.
"Basically, it was a change of focus while I was on the mound," Hammel said. "I worked on it when I was down in the 'pen on my [side sessions], just focusing on the glove. Before, I was kind of seeing too much, which was kind of making me think about too much. I was seeing the hitter in there, the umpire, looking at the catcher. I really did some drills just to focus on seeing only the glove.
"That's the only thing I really needed to work on," Hammel added. "That was my cue on what to do. If I was starting to think about, 'Oh, if I make this mistake, what is the hitter going to do with it?' Instead, it's like, 'Here's the glove, here's the pitch I'm throwing. Execute it.' I was thinking about too many what-ifs."
Hammel credits Rockies bullpen coach Jimmy Wright for helping him reinvent himself — a process that has included leaning on a devastating sinker as a key out pitch.
"Obviously, it's never good to get a demotion, so it's a little kick in the pants there," Hammel said. "I was fortunate enough to go down there and work with Jimmy Wright pretty much every day, pretty much talking baseball and the mental part of the game. It was instrumental in getting over that hurdle and actually figuring out how to pitch. I'm still learning, too, and I'm still building on what I've learned. I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
Hammel took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in his first Orioles start, against the Minnesota Twins on April 8. He matched a career high with 10 strikeouts in a six-inning, two-run effort against the White Sox in Chicago on the Orioles' first road trip and followed that with seven shutout innings in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.
"My confidence is totally different," he said. "I was confident in my stuff, but the gray area — those what-ifs — were always creeping into my head when things started to get rocky, so that explains the big innings and short outings."
Hammel is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA (29 innings pitched, 24 earned runs) in 11 career appearances (five starts) against the Yankees. He pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006 to 2008.
Reynolds looks good at first
Mark Reynolds made his first start of the season at first base Sunday and played well — even starting one of several key defensive plays for the Orioles in their 5-2 walk-off win over the Oakland Athletics.
Reynolds, who has made three errors in 10 games at third base this season after making 26 errors there in 114 games last season, on Sunday tallied nine putouts and one assist, which came on a nice 3-6-3 double play in the fourth inning.
While holding Yoenis Cespedes on first, Reynolds made a diving snag of Kila Ka'aihue's ball down the line, throwing to second from his knees, then taking J.J. Hardy's throw to complete the double play.
"Made a pretty good play there and J.J. made a good feed on the return, and it was big for Tommy [Hunter] to keep his pitch count down and keep him in the game."
"I'm holding the runner on, lefty hitting," Reynolds said. "It's just reaction. I thought I had a better chance for the double play by throwing it instead of tagging the bag and make the throw around the runner and make J.J. tag him."
Reynolds met with manager Buck Showalter two weeks ago and told him he would be willing to play anywhere in order to help the team. Reynolds played 44 games at first last year, making just five errors with a .987 fielding percentage.
"He's played first base," Showalter said. "He's been taking balls there. I know you've been watching. That's the type of club we're hopefully [becoming]. We'll move people around, so when Nick [Markakis] needs a day to DH or this guys needs to do that, it's not something new. We're going to use the versatility of our team. I don't want Mark to DH too much and get Wilson [Betemit] back out there again."
Betemit, who has committed four errors at third this season, started there Sunday.
Showalter said Reynolds' move to first doesn't take away any confidence Showalter has in Reynolds' playing third moving on.
"We've had some good things at third base from he and Wilson and Ryan [Flaherty] and some things from all three of them that haven't been as good as they're capable," Showalter said. "It's the nature of the game. We want to keep the versatility in play, just like last night, probably like tomorrow."
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