Baseball / Sports

A's lose to Astros; Jason Hammel roughed up again

HOUSTON -- After four consecutive starts in which newly acquired starter Jason Hammel has been repeatedly knocked around, the A's have only one thing they feel they can do.

Start him a fifth time. And in all likelihood, a sixth and seventh and beyond.

Hammel spent the first inning of Wednesday's 8-1 loss to the Astros a 6-foot-6 imitation batting tee, giving up six hits and six runs, taking the A's out of the game almost before it started.

That made him furious and prone to explain that feeling in words that don't go well with the morning O.J. and bowl of cereal at the kitchen table.

For three innings after that, he was able to channel that feeling into keeping his troublesome slider down in the strike zone. The A's saw that, and they said they know that's the pitcher Hammel should be all the time.

"Once he settles in a little better, everyone knows he's got good stuff," catcher Derek Norris said. "That's not the issue. He's just got to be down in the zone. When it's up in the zone, it hangs, and hitters hit that kind of stuff at this level.

"He's going to be a huge force for us. Once again, you don't have to go back to the drawing boards. You don't have to figure out what's wrong. He's got to get the ball down. That's all. When he did today, he got a lot of early outs."

Hammel did have his moments. When the Astros went through the lineup the first time, they got six runs. When they went through the lineup the second time, they didn't get a base runner.

That's the pitcher manager Bob Melvin sees, and that's why when Melvin was asked if Hammel would make his next start, he left no doubt.

"I certainly expect him to, yeah," Melvin said. "When he's down in the strike zone he's very effective."

The trouble, of course is that Hammel hasn't been down in the strike zone much since being traded from the Cubs. He had no problem locating the ball where he wanted it with an 8-5 record and 2.98 ERA with a mediocre team, but now that he's with a team with the best record in the big leagues (65-41), he can't seem to find it.

"It's been on me. These four losses that I have, they are my losses," Hammel said. "The execution with the slider is the only difference. It's ridiculous to just continue to do the same thing over and over again. It's like insanity, expecting a different result. I've got to make an adjustment there.

"You saw it. Sliders were up in the zone. Bloop hits. Bloop hits. Bloop hits. Then a big hit, and you look up and they've got a six spot on the board. It says a lot, too, for our hitters. Our guys string together great at-bats, but you put them in a 6-0 hole in the first inning and it's hard for them to come back."

The A's are 9-8 since Hammel became a starter in Oakland, but the club is 0-4 in his starts and 9-4 in the other 13. Yet both the A's and Hammel himself look forward to his next start against Tampa Bay in Oakland next week.

The rationale is simple. He can't be the pitcher he should be if he doesn't continue to pitch. So the A's will let him continue to pitch, although one would guess their largesse is not unlimited. In the background are Tommy Milone and Drew Pomeranz, lefties who were pitching well in Oakland in May and June.

"It's a long season and I've been through this before," Hammel said. "I have to continue to trust myself and do what I've done before. I can't beat myself up. You can be frustrated and upset, but you have to have a short memory, because I'll have the ball again in five days."

(c)2014 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)

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