MILWAUKEE — What if Jason Hammel becomes a pitcher the Cubs try to build around?
OK, it’s a long-shot scenario that would require Theo Epstein’s front office to get away from the sign-and-flip script. But Hammel has lived up to the best-case projections, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Sunday’s 4-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
“That’s crazy to even bring that up right now,” Hammel said. “Honestly, it’s April. It’s still very early. Like I said in spring training, every player wants to stay in one place for a long time.
“I’m not thinking about that. I want to lead by example and I want to win. That’s what we all want to do. We’re learning how to do that right now.”
A weekend dominated by talk about The Matt Garza Show and Jeff Samardzija Watch made you wonder how Hammel might fit into The Plan.
It gets late early out there when you’re on a one-year, $6 million deal with an 8-16 team looking to sell. Hammel (2.08 ERA) has notched four of those wins, snapping a four-game losing streak by shutting down the team with the best record (18-7) in baseball.
“I always want to be the stopper,” said Hammel, who gave up three hits and struck out seven in seven innings. “You want to be that guy who’s dependable and you know what you’re going to get every time out. Now I’m healthy and feel like I can execute when I want to.”
Carlos Gomez ended Hammel’s no-hit bid with one out in the sixth inning, smacking a slider down the left-field line for a double. A crowd of 45,286 wasn’t going to see history.
“When guys say they weren’t thinking of it, they’re lying through their teeth,” Hammel said. “I was more frustrated with the fact (that) I pretty much screwed myself.
“We were bouncing back and forth between innings changing up signs. I got caught up in the signs. Basically, I mixed myself up and kind of lost my rhythm. That was my fault.”
Catcher John Baker explained: “He forgot, so we were laughing about it. Of course, we give up a hit. I told him it cost me a watch. We have to figure out a way to use my mind to give him the signs with telepathy.”
Hammel had to wait for the Cubs to read the Masahiro Tanaka market before getting his pillow contract this winter. He’s 6-foot-6 and will turn 32 in September. He’s an easy-going guy in the clubhouse. He’s been on surprise teams that have made the playoffs in Tampa Bay, Colorado and Baltimore.
“He’s kind of unique in that he’s got that tall/high arm angle and he throws the ball downhill,” Baker said. “That’s similar to Josh Johnson before he ever got hurt. J.J. threw the ball downhill so much and it was really difficult for people to square up his fastball. (We’ve) been making sure that’s the priority pitch (for Hammel). If they’re not hitting the fastball, they’re getting more of them.
“We’re not trying to waste our time on pitching to the scouting report, per se, or throwing a bunch of breaking balls. If they are having trouble seeing that ball down and away, especially the right-handed hitters, then that’s what they’re going to keep getting until someone squares it up.”
If Hammel keeps pitching like this, he’ll keep getting the same questions about his future.