A’s: Hammel finds himself again thanks to his slider

Jason Hammel is confident he's back pitching the way he wants to with A's.

Jason Hammel is confident he’s back pitching the way he wants to with A’s.

It’s not like Jason Hammel has been born again in his last two starts.

But the veteran starting has come back home, metaphorically at least.

Home is where his slider crosses the plate at the knees or a little lower. Home is where his sinking two-seam fastball clips the corners instead of crossing the fat part of the plate.

And Hammel is now pitching like he did when the A’s traded with the Cubs five weeks ago. When Hammel and Jeff Samardzija came over in the deal that sent Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to Chicago, Hammel had a 2.98 ERA and an 8-5 record for a bad team.

   Coming to the team with the best record in baseball, Hammel stumbled badly out of the gate, going 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA in his first four starts. But he threw shutout ball for 5.2 innings against the Rays. To hear manager Bob Melvin describe it, the right-hander was “even better today’’ in allowing one run in 6.2 innings.

“When I first got here, everything I threw was up,’’ Hammel said. “Even my slider was up in the strike zone. Now everything’s down where I want it to be. I’m best when I can pitch down there and get ground balls.’’

Hammel had eight ground ball outs and five strikeouts among the 20 outs he recorded. In his previous start against the Rays, he had nine grounders and two strikeouts among the 17. By way of comparison, in the last of his four losses, against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, he had just five grounders and three strikeouts in the 17 outs he got.

Did he put too much pressure on himself to be The Man after the trade?

He says he doesn’t believe that he did, but he’s pitching with a level of confidence that was not there early on.

“I had a lot of confidence today pitching to (catcher John) Jaso,’’ Hammel said.

Jaso asked Hammel before the game if he had more confidence in the curve or the slider. Hammel opted for the slider, and Jaso went to it time and again.

“He had good confidence in the slider,’’ Jaso said. “It’s a good pitch for him to get back to where he needs to be mechanically.’’

Jaso said in his first four starts had problems with his delivery, as he described it “starting to fly open.’’ It developed into a bad habit.

But it’s a habit he believes he’s beaten.

“It’s a matter of trusting your stuff and competing,’’ he said.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.