Jason Hammel pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the Opening… (J. Meric, Getty Images )
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In his first opportunity as an Opening Day starter, Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel allowed just three hits and three runs in six innings and picked up his first victory in 32 outings at his old home, Tropicana Field.
And yet afterward he was far from happy.
"Overall, I was pretty bad today," said Hammel, who walked one, struck out two and retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced Tuesday. "Just uncharacteristically wild with the fastball. Seventy-five pitches after six innings. On a good day, when I'm commanding, I'm going to finish the game."
He survived a sixth inning in which he walked the first batter, No. 9 hitter Kelly Johnson, and gave up a run-scoring double to Desmond Jennings, who later scored on a sacrifice fly. Hammel also served up a fourth-inning solo homer to Ben Zobrist.
Otherwise, Hammel made short work of the Rays. And yet it wasn't enough for Hammel, who trailed 3-2 after finishing his outing in the sixth before the Orioles scored five runs in the top of the seventh.
"I feel like they did it all," Hammel said of his offense. "I honestly don't feel like I did anything today. It was a battle. I hate that it was the first one out of the gates. ... I wasn't too good today. I'll be back in five days. I'll go work on it in two days to get it right and be good to go real soon."
Regardless of his self-criticism, Hammel accomplished something he had never done before in his career: He finally won a game at the Trop.
Hammel —who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 10th round in 2002 and pitched for the Rays from 2006 to 2008 — entered the opener with an 0-5 record and a 5.87 ERA in 31 games (11 starts) at Tropicana Field.
"It doesn't surprise me. I just don't have good history here," said Hammel, who was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts for the Orioles last year. "That's what I'll chalk it up to. It was nice to get one today and good to start off today with a 'W.'"
Hammel admits he was a little extra charged up getting the Opening Day assignment after emerging as the club's top starter in 2012 before a knee injury sidelined him for most of the second half. And maybe the extra adrenaline worked against him.
"That took me back to my debut," said Hammel, referring to April 11, 2006, when he gave up seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Tropicana Field. "Funny, it was in the same place, too."
He said he didn't feel like he was carrying extra motivation to beat his original club, the one that dealt him to the Colorado Rockies before the 2009 season.
"I owe a lot to the Rays. It's pretty much where my career started. It's fond memories there. I know a few of the guys over there, still. The team has changed since I've been there, but a lot of history here for myself," he said. "I'm very appreciative of what they gave to me, but I'm wearing other colors now, and that's really what's important to me. [The Orioles] got me out there, and [are] putting the weight on my back that I expect to carry. I expect to carry a big load."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he could tell Hammel was "amped up" given all the emotions swirling around Opening Day.
"I thought stuff-wise he was in pretty good shape. Sometimes, you want something to happen too much," Showalter said. "It had nothing to do with facing Tampa. He just wanted to be the guy to get us off to a good start."
The most impressive thing, said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, is that Hammel wasn't at his best and still pitched well enough until the Orioles' offense came alive.
"It just shows what kind of competitor he is," Wieters said. "He knew he didn't have his best stuff today, but he went out and gave us a chance to win, which is all you can ask of the starting pitching."
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