ARLINGTON, Texas — Jason Hammel is 0-3 in his first three starts for the A’s after taking the loss in Oakland’s 4-1 defeat to the Texas Rangers on Friday, so it’s natural that the name “Tommy Milone” has started to pop up.
Milone was 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA over his previous 11 starts when he got sent down to make room in the rotation and on the Oakland roster for Hammel, who arrived with pitcher Jeff Samardzija in the July 4 blockbuster trade with the Chicago Cubs. Hammel was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA for Chicago, but he has a 7.11 ERA with the A’s, and his reputation for having above-average command has suffered a bit.
All of that is outside the A’s clubhouse, mind you. Inside, the players and manager Bob Melvin see Hammel as a boost to the rotation and the roster, these three losses notwithstanding.
“His stuff is there,” veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie said after the first-place A’s fell to 63-39. “There were a couple of mistakes they took advantage of tonight. I know he’s frustrated about it.
“This is a guy who has always been really effective. I think he’ll start locating that stuff soon.”
Melvin said this start was the best of the three for Hammel, who gave up single runs in the second and third innings, then held the Rangers there until Oakland pulled within a run on Yoenis Cespedes’ RBI single in the sixth. Hammel immediately got dinged for two more runs, one unearned.
“It was a better mix for me,” Melvin said. “After the first couple of innings, he got the ball down and commanded his fastball better. At times he had a really sharp slider tonight.”
So, no, there won’t be a quick call to Sacramento to get Milone, who is 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts for the River Cats. Asked how safe Hammel’s job was, Melvin made it clear changes are not being contemplated.
“We traded for him for a reason,” Melvin said of Hammel. “He’s had a lot of success. We expect him to.”
If anything, the performance of the A’s offense against Rangers starter Jerome Williams was more surprising than Hammel’s struggles. The lineup Melvin put together was a combined 36 for 90 (.400) lifetime against Williams. And in the last month, the veteran had been released by one last-place team (Houston) and picked up by another (Texas). He’d made two starts at Triple-A with an ERA of 6.10.
So when he went out and dominated the team that leads the majors in runs scored, it was at the very least counterintuitive.
“He’s a veteran guy and he’s smart,” A’s batting coach Chili Davis said. “He doesn’t have the name, but he can sit up there (throwing) 92, 93 mph, and he’s got a good changeup and a couple other pitches to go with his fastball.”
Hammel wasn’t as troubled by his stuff as he was by his execution.
“The easiest thing to do here is to get down on myself, but I’m not going to do that,” Hammel said. “There were a couple of times when I needed to make a quality pitch. I’ve got to do better with quality pitches, make my misses down.”
Hammel didn’t get much help from his teammates. John Jaso tried to go from first to third on Cespedes’ RBI single in the sixth and was thrown out. And Cespedes’ throwing error set up the Rangers’ final run.