WASHINGTON – Jason Hammel set off some fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The Cubs pitcher voiced the building frustrations inside the clubhouse, highlighting a disconnect with the front office after a 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Hammel stood in front of his locker for the postgame media session and took the first question – How would you assess the outing? – in another direction to make his point.
“I would have liked to have stayed out there in the seventh,” Hammel said. “I have no idea why I came out of the game. But I honestly believe you learn how to pitch when you get to 100 pitches. If you’re not allowed to reach that, that’s hurting you more than helping you.
“I guess it is what it is for right now. But for a guy that’s established and continues to work hard and prepares himself to throw late in the games, deep in the games, 100 pitches shouldn’t even come into question. But, overall, great win as a team.”
The Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners were among the teams with scouts at Nationals Park, for what could have been Hammel’s final start in a Cubs uniform. That’s using Scott Feldman’s one-year, sign-and-flip deal as a template. Feldman got traded to the Baltimore Orioles on July 2 last year.
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Hammel spoke in a calm, carefully measured tone, but he’s going out with a bang, putting up All-Star numbers (8-5, 2.98 ERA) and bringing up the same pitch-count stuff that bothered Jeff Samardzija (and he’s not the only player who’s questioned the limits).
Remember how manager Rick Renteria let Samardzija throw a career-high 126 pitches on May 5 in a nine-inning no-decision against the White Sox. The next day, GM Jed Hoyer expressed his concerns. Samardzija then called it an “on-field issue for uniform personnel,” saying “I’m a grown man.”
“I can understand for maybe a minor-league guy, but we’re up here trying to win,” Hammel said. “If you’re paying attention – I know it’s not Ricky’s fault – I think it’s coming from somewhere else.
“But I prepare myself to go out there and pitch deep into ballgames. You can’t throw a complete game in this league throwing 100 pitches. It just doesn’t happen anymore. It’s just very frustrating, because I felt good today. Honestly, for an 11 o’clock start, I was surprised how good I felt.
“But that’s where you learn how to pitch in the big leagues – when you get tired. You have to learn how to pitch. You can’t just have your best stuff.”
Hammel didn’t have his best stuff, giving up a first-inning homer that Jayson Werth hammered into the left-field seats. But he did manage to pile up seven strikeouts and limit the damage, allowing five hits and two walks. He even chipped in with an RBI single in the second inning.
Hammel faced one batter in the seventh inning – Anthony Rendon doubled down the left-field line – and that brought Renteria out to the mound after 92 pitches. Neil Ramirez, the lights-out reliever, allowed the inherited runner to score.
“This is the most severe I’ve ever seen before,” Hammel said. “Honestly, there’s no reason for me to go back out there if I’m just going to give up a runner and then get pulled. That really makes no sense.”
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail asking for comment. Hammel – a respected veteran who’s also pitched for the Orioles, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays – was asked if the Cubs have an arbitrary number in place.
“I have no idea,” he said. “But it’s pretty black and white, from what you see going on. Guys get to 100 pitches, they’re done. Even today – I didn’t get to it. It’s just frustrating.”
The Cubs (38-46) just swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and beat a good Nationals team (46-39) with a solid all-around game. But that wasn’t the big story coming out of the nation’s capital.
“It’s basically a cap on what we can do,” Hammel said. “Why are we going out there, honestly, if it’s just: ‘You’re going to get this many pitches. It doesn’t matter what the situation is.’? We have to learn – especially the young guys – how to pitch when you’re tired. In the big leagues, supposedly, the number is 100. But if we’re not allowed to reach that, we’re never going to learn anything.”