From Cheat Day to Cheat Code, Second-Half Hammel Keeps Rolling

Any fitness buff will tell you that the occasional cheat day is a perfectly acceptable, even necessary, part of a nutrition plan. For Jason Hammel, who adopted a more intense workout regimen this past offseason, junk food may have been a saving grace. Timothy Leary he’s not, but Hammel accepted the team doctor’s Potato Chip Prescription with gusto and has Cubs fans thinking they’re hallucinating when he’s on the mound.

[beautifulquote align=”left”]In six starts since the All-Star Break, Hammel has posted a 0.95 ERA over 38 innings.[/beautifulquote]

As surely as 007-373-5963 will get you straight to Kid Dynamite in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Hammel has been a veritable cheat code for the Cubs of late. In six starts since the All-Star Break, the long-legged right-hander has posted a 0.95 ERA over 38 innings. He is riding a 22-inning scoreless streak and the only run he’s surrendered in his last four starts was on a homer by White Sox pitcher Anthony Ranaudo.

In blanking Milwaukee over the course of 7 innings in the second game of the double header Tuesday, Hammel collected as many hits (2) as he allowed and even managed to strike out 7 Brewers. It was a masterful 110-pitch performance that further distanced the veteran starter from the notion that he’s doomed to fade as the season wears on.

It would be easy to point to his most recent opponent and theorize that Hammel simply hasn’t faced stiff competition since the break. That theory would grow more sound when you see that he’s pitched against the Brewers twice, along with matchups against the flagging White Sox and Angels. But throw in a pair of starts against the Marlins and Rangers and the notion of a cakewalk loses a few steps. Thing is, it doesn’t matter who’s been put in front of him. Hammel has been lights-out and that’s that.

[beautifulquote align=”right”]Hammel now has as many wins as Todd O’Connor had heart attacks.[/beautifulquote]

Hammel now has as many wins as fellow salty snack connoisseur Todd O’Connor had heart attacks (a career-high baker’s dozen) and he lowered his season ERA to 2.75. He’s doing it by feeding hitters a steady diet of fastballs and sliders, peppering in the curve and change to taste. As long as he keeps following that recipe and limits his pork intake to 400 milligrams a day, he should be able to keep this up through September.

There’s been some talk about what to do with the rotation come October and the general consensus has Hammel in the pen at this point. I can’t disagree, but Joe Maddon could draw straws for the third and fourth spots and not go wrong with any combination. Still plenty of time to work that all out though. For now, I’m happy to watch Hammel load up on PCP and dust opposing hitters.

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