MILWAUKEE -- J.D. Hammer, knowing his vision was a problem, got it checked in the winter of 2016, after returning from his first season of professional baseball.
Hammer, who joined the Phillies on Saturday from triple A, noticed while pitching in rookie-ball that he had trouble reading a catcher’s signs. Contact lenses bothered his eyes, so Hammer tried to pitch without any aid. And it was a challenge.
“They were like, ‘Wow. Your eyes are bad. I don’t know how you’re seeing,’” Hammer said.
The eye doctor confirmed what Hammer had suspected -- he needed to wear glasses when he pitched.
“I figured if I was going to do it, then I was going to do it big,” Hammer said. “So, I bought the big Rick Vaughn-looking glasses and just rolled with it. It’s part of my repertoire.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Hammer reached the majors in the city where Major League -- the 1989 baseball flick featuring relief pitcher “Wild Thing” Vaughn, played by Charlie Sheen, and his glasses -- was filmed.
Hammer picked a pair of oversized glasses with thick black frames. An elastic strap attached to the arms kept the glasses in place while he pitched. With them, he no longer squinted on the mound.
The Rockies traded him to the Phillies in 2017 for Pat Neshek, whom, coincidentally, he replaced Saturday, after the veteran righty was placed on the injured list.
The Phillies moved Hammer quickly this season. After missing most of last season with an elbow strain, the 24-year-old pitched just 14 games above Class A, striking out 29 batters in 22 1/3 innings. He retired all six batters he faced last week, in his one appearance in triple A. He has a mid-90s fastball and a nice slider, which he has improved this season.
Hammer said the organization’s research and development department has helped him apply analytics. The numbers help him game-plan for hitters and exploit tendencies.
“We really dug deep into the information,” Hammer said.
As for his "really quick turnaround,” Hammer said, “It’s what you dream of. I’m really excited to be here. I just don’t have any words right now to describe how I feel.”
Triple-A manager Gary Jones called Hammer around 1 a.m., Saturday, to tell him that he was joining the Phillies. He drove from Allentown to Philadelphia and caught a flight to Chicago. A driver took him to Milwaukee.
By Saturday afternoon, he was walking into a major-league clubhouse, depositing his bags in his locker, and meeting with manager Gabe Kapler -- and making sure his new Phillies hat and uniform fit just right.
“It’s been a ride,” Hammer said. “I’ve worked hard, and I’ve had a lot of people support me along the way. Coaches, trainers, everyone. I’ve had a lot of support. I couldn’t do it without them.”
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