Hammel says he'll stay with high heat
DENVER - Jason Hammel was either being overly helpful or playing mind games with the Phillies' hitters yesterday. Hammel, who will start tonight for Colorado at Lambeau Field-like Coors Field in the third game of the National League division series, said he has made a significant stylistic change since last facing the Phillies. He has "canned" the sinking two-seam fastball, and uses only the high and riding four-seamer, the favorite of power pitchers.
DENVER - Jason Hammel was either being overly helpful or playing mind games with the Phillies' hitters yesterday.
Hammel, who will start tonight for Colorado at Lambeau Field-like Coors Field in the third game of the National League division series, said he has made a significant stylistic change since last facing the Phillies. He has "canned" the sinking two-seam fastball, and uses only the high and riding four-seamer, the favorite of power pitchers.
A sinking fastball that produces ground-ball outs is considered vital to success at Coors. The righthander would rather go with a pitch he believes in, a pitch he can put on the corners.
"I didn't really have too much confidence in it," Hammel, 27, said about the two-seamer. "We'll stick with the four-seamer."
The truth will be in the pitching. Whether or not Hammel tries to work low in the strike zone, the Phillies will face a pitcher who rescued his season with a strong finish.
Hammel earned this start, manager Jim Tracy said, by going 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA in his final nine starts. The bullpen sabotaged the record. Rockies relievers had four blown saves behind Hammel in the nine starts.
Before that, Hammel was in and out of the rotation and at best mediocre: 7-7 with a 4.73 ERA. That included an unimpressive win against the Phillies on Aug. 4, when he gave up three runs in 62/3 innings during an 8-3 victory.
"There would be a good one and one or two not-so-good ones," Tracy said.
The reason for the improvement was elementary. Hammel threw more strikes. He allowed only 2.06 walks per nine innings and, according to Tracy, consistently worked ahead in the count.
That reflects use of the four-seamer, which Hammel can command. Tracy apparently is not in on the ruse or has not been paying close attention. He acknowledged the four-seamer, but added that Hammel still uses the sinker "wisely."
"He's become a consistent pitcher," the manager said. "He's created a mind-set in our clubhouse that when he goes out there, we can anticipate that he can pitch well and give us a chance to win. That's all we've asked any of our starters to do."
Hammel also learned to love Coors, or at least tolerate it.
The hitter-friendly park has played more reasonably since 2002, when the Rockies began storing baseballs in a humidor to keep them from hardening and losing friction. Hammel nonetheless was concerned when Tampa Bay chose righthander Jeff Niemann as its fifth starter late in spring training and traded him to the Rockies.
"I'd heard a lot of bad things about the place," Hammel said.
With those evil thoughts in mind, Hammel went 3-4 with a 7.09 ERA in his first 10 starts at Coors. He finally found a comfort zone here in a vital late-August start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was 1-0 with a 3.69 ERA for his last five home starts.
Pitch selection played a role in the improvement. Rather than continue throwing sliders that stayed flat in the thin air, Hammel went to the curveball as his breaking pitch.
"It's still a baseball field," he said. "As long as you continue on your game plan, Coors Field is a baseball stadium."
The game plan calls for strikes early in the count with fastballs, Hammel said. Whether those are high fastballs or low fastballs remains to be seen.
Hammel, Home and Away
A look at the road and Coors Field performances of Colorado righthander Jason Hammel this season:
W-L ERA Inn. H HR Coors 3-3 5.73 81.2 114 12
Road 7-5 3.13 95.0 89 5