ST. LOUIS — Jason Hammel is pitching like an All-Star again — the way he did as a sign-and-flip guy in 2014 and a rotation anchor for last year’s playoff team — so the question for the Cubs now becomes: Is this sustainable?
Hammel doesn’t look at it that way, not after clearing his head during the offseason, altering his training program and refocusing for a World Series contender. He wants more.
Hammel 2.0 handled the St. Louis Cardinals during Tuesday night’s 12-3 victory at Busch Stadium, working into the eighth inning for the first time this year, allowing only one run and tying his season-high pitch count (103).
“I do feel different,” said Hammel (6-1, 2.17 ERA). “I’m definitely not happy with the walks. I know I can do better, as long as I clean that up. I still think the timing’s off with the delivery that I’ve adapted to now.
“But I’m not thinking that far down the road right now. I’m just going game by game, pitch by pitch. I think that’s going to be the right mentality for me. Instead of: ‘Don’t falter.’
“I’m not a negative thinker anymore. I’m just going to stay positive. We’re going to stay here and now and be present.”
Hammel described his outing as “effectively wild” and joked about his second three-game hitting streak: “Who’s counting?” It also helped that the Cubs built a six-run lead before he threw his first pitch, so manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t be so quick to turn the game over to the bullpen.
Hammel excelled for the Cubs in 2014, going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in his first 17 starts before getting packaged with Jeff Samardzija in the Addison Russell blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s. But Hammel found it difficult to uproot his family midseason and struggled to make a quick adjustment to Oakland, finishing at 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA in the American League.
Hammel got off to another hot start last season (2.86 ERA in 103-plus innings) before a leg injury messed with his mechanics and led to a breakdown after the All-Star break (5.10 ERA in 67 innings).
“I believe it’s sustainable, absolutely,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing, again, is if he knows where his fastball is going, he will pitch deeply into a lot of games, because his ball’s got great movement on it. So there’s a lot of mishits, and also his breaking ball is really good.”
Hammel understands his importance to this team, how carrying this momentum all the way through to the finish line would be huge for the 2016 Cubs.
“I don’t see why not,” catcher David Ross said. “He was our best starter last year in the first half. That says a lot with the group that’s in this room.
“He does a good job of keeping those guys off-balance and making the pitches when he needs to. He just looks a lot more sound mechanically. Even when he gets out of whack, he finds his way back into the count.”
ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) - Candace Parker scored 17 of her 26 points in the first half and the Los Angeles Sparks used a decisive second quarter to cruise to a 93-80 win over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday night.
Chicago was within two with 3:55 left before halftime, but Los Angeles closed the opening 20 minutes with an 18-2 run for a 53-35 lead. Kristi Toliver started the spurt with a 3-pointer and Parker scored the final six points.
Parker scored the first five Los Angeles points of the third quarter, including a coast-to-coast layup and a 3-pointer, and the Sparks led by double figures for the entire second half.
Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Jantel Lavender scored 16 on 7-of-9 shooting for Los Angeles (4-0), which was ranked No. 2 in the AP WNBA power poll. Kristi Toliver had 11 points and 10 assists and the Sparks finished with 27 assists on 30 field goals. Parker was just 6 of 15 from the field but hit 12 of 14 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds.
Jamierra Faulkner scored 17 points with a career-high 10 assists for No. 7 Chicago (1-3), which was without point guard Courtney Vandersloot for a second straight game. The Sky turned it over 15 times and Elena Delle Donne was held to eight points.
Chris Sale’s bid to win his first 10 starts of the season ended in spectacular enough fashion on Tuesday night for him to look at video.
The White Sox pitcher isn’t a big fan of reviewing footage of his starts.
But that’s exactly what Sale did after he endured the longest inning of his career and then some in a 6-2 White Sox loss to the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 21,550.
Cruising through two-plus innings, Sale needed 43 pitches to escape the third inning. He only recorded one more out and allowed six earned runs. Vying to become only the eighth pitcher in baseball history to win his first 10 starts, and just the second since 1920, Sale was tagged with his first loss for the White Sox, who have lost 10 of 14.
“I had to see what’s going on,” Sale said. “Just trying to get a feel for where I was at in my mechanics and all that, seeing what was going on. I saw some stuff and (I’ll) build on that and learn and move forward.
“I don’t know if it was more (command issues) or just being bad.
“I couldn’t really pinpoint anything. I couldn’t tell you this or that. I stunk. I was bad. It was embarrassing.”
Sale said he didn’t review footage because he thought he might have tipped his pitches against the Indians, against whom he’s now 5-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
Instead, he wanted to see why he “ran into a buzzsaw.”
With two outs in the third inning, Sale’s pitch count stood at 32, including only five in the frame. He had retired eight of the first 10 batters faced.
But what appeared to be another chapter in a spectacular start to Sale’s season quickly unraveled. He walked Jose Ramirez on 10 pitches and Francisco Lindor singled him to third. Mike Napoli followed with a two-run triple that fell in between Austin Jackson and Melky Cabrera and put the Indians ahead for good.
But the inning wasn’t yet over.
Sale walked Carlos Santana on seven pitches and Juan Uribe won a nine-pitch battle when he dumped a 2-2 changeup into right for an RBI single.
Chris Gimenez started the fourth inning with a solo homer off Sale — only the sixth he has allowed in 71.2 innings this season. Sale issued two more walks and an RBI single by Lindor knocked him out of the game.
“Any time you see that, you are surprised,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “This is an off night for him. The best part is it’s not anything physical as far as he was hurting. He had velocity. He probably had too much of it.”
Sale’s attempt to become the first starting pitcher to win 10 straight since San Diego’s Andy Hawkins in 1985 ended with his shortest start since Sept. 13, 2015. He allowed seven hits, walked four and struck out seven.
The biggest disappointment for Sale isn’t the loss of the streak but that he followed a doubleheader with his shortest outing of the season. Zach Putnam, Tommy Kahnle, Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined for 5.2 scoreless innings in relief of Sale.
“That’s what gets me the most,” Sale said. “We played two yesterday — I had to be big for the guys tonight and was the exact opposite.”
“I stunk. I was bad. I was terrible.”
Sale’s offense had to reverse its latest trend to save him from a loss.
Despite a nice showing from Jose Abreu, it didn’t.
Adam Eaton jumpstarted the White Sox with a leadoff solo homer against Josh Tomlin.
But Tomlin retired 23 of the next 28 batters he faced, including 12 in a row, to improve to 7-0.
The White Sox finished with six hits and scored three or fewer runs for the eighth time in 11 contests. They’ve produced three or fewer runs in 23 of 47 games this season and dropped to 7-16 in those contests.
“Right now it seems that way that we are streaky,” Ventura said. “Nice night by Jose, that’s a good sign to see him swinging it the way he did. You definitely want to see some more runs and things like that.
“But seeing him get going would be a nice shot inn the arm for us.”