Baltimore Orioles vs. Minnesota Twins: O’s sweep series with 3-1 win
By Eduardo A. Encina,
BALTIMORE — Jason Hammel didn’t begin the scoreboard watching until the end of the sixth inning Sunday afternoon. The right-hander took his seat in the Baltimore Orioles’ dugout and thought to himself how quickly his first start of the season was going.
He had thrown just 65 pitches through those six innings. He was making quick work of the Minnesota Twins with a bevy of groundball outs. His teammates started inching away from him on the bench.
“After a while you kind of realize, ‘Man, we’re moving along here pretty quick. What’s going on?’ ” Hammel said.
The 29-year-old watched as right-handers Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter opened the season with back-to-back sparkling starts — both beginning their outings with seven scoreless innings — setting a tough act for Hammel to follow in Sunday’s series finale at Camden Yards.
Hammel did one better in his Orioles debut. He flirted with history, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before settling for a two-hit gem in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Twins, completing a series sweep.
Hammel was six outs shy of becoming the first Oriole pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Camden Yards history — Boston’s Hideo Nomo threw the ballpark’s only no-hitter just more than 11 years ago — when Minnesota designated hitter Justin Morneau led off the eighth inning with a double to right.
Afterward, Hammel said it was undoubtedly the best game of his six-year big-league career.
“I’ll take this any day of the week,” Hammel said. “I haven’t been much better than that. I can still be better with my command. The two-seamer is just something I started using again in spring training. It got me behind in counts today, but I was able to battle back and get quick outs after that.”
It was that two-seamer — resurrected this spring — that befuddled Twins hitters all afternoon. Hammel faced the minimum amount of hitters through seven innings, with second- and fifth-inning walks erased by double-play balls.
Hammel forced 14 ground-ball outs (including those two double-plays) and just three fly-ball outs.
“We never really got to him,” Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Hammel, acquired just 10 days before the beginning of spring training in the trade that send former No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies, shelved his two-seamer when he couldn’t get any movement from it in Denver’s thin air. But this spring, Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair brought it back.
“He said, ‘I bet I can get you to throw it,’ ” Hammel said. “It was something I could run with now. It was huge. Keeps pitch count down, gets quick innings.”
Seven weeks ago, when Hammel arrived at spring training, the Orioles knew little about what they had in him, but since then they’re happy with what they’ve seen.
“Guys are getting in shape [in the spring], so you really don’t know what they’re about,” Adair said. “He’s gotten the ability to get on top of the ball a little bit easier now. Going to the two-seamer after everything else he’s done, it worked out, so he’s pretty excited about it.”
And Sunday was an exclamation point.
— Baltimore Sun