We went from “Jason Hammel is throwing a perfect game” to “Jason Hammel should be removed after five innings, marched to the clubhouse and duct-taped to a radiator, no questions asked” in a matter of about 15 pitches.
The latest in a long line of disappointments dropped the Royals to .500 and brought into question (for what has got to be the 43rd this season) how good this team actually is after a 4-0 loss to the Cleveland Professional Baseball Team, Saturday night.
The dichotomy is jarring. On the one hand, Hammel was perfect—in the literal sense—for 5.1 innings against Cleveland, holding one of the AL’s most dynamic offenses to nothing. For a guy who has only thrown curveball about nine percent of the time this season, he doubled that output in this one and induced plenty of weak contact with it.
And his offense was super-helpful, so that should have provided him with a buffer. Oh wait, that’s not true at all. The Royals scratched four hits—all singles—and threatened twice:
- Back-to-back singles from Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer and a Mike Moustakas walk loaded the bases in the fourth with two outs. Alcides Escobar did not come through, to the surprise of all.
- Lorenzo Cain lined one to the deep part of the park in the fifth with Whit Merrifield on first. If Bradley Zimmer didn’t briefly turn into Center Field Jesus and make a back-to-the-plate diving grab, Merrifield scores and LoCain has extra bases.
Not scoring a run was problematic enough. But Hammel was pitching so well—he was very much his best Jason Hammel on this night—that he was keeping the Royals in it on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking. There was a chance, if the pitching held up, that the offense could come around.
It presented an interesting case study for Ned Yost: here was Hammel, cruising along before finally surrendering a hit and a homer to Roberto Perez in the sixth. He was pitching as well as he’s pitched all season.
And then Ned Yost broke the Cardinal rule: Thou Shalt Not Let Jason Hammel Start a Third Time Through the Order.
Why? Nobody knows. If you’ve watched a Royals game with Hammel on the mound this season, you’ve seen the ‘First time, second time and third time through the order’ numbers. The first two times through, he’s pretty good. The third time through, he turns into a slightly above-average JV pitcher.
And after Perez touched home, Francisco Lindor began the third time through the Cleveland order.
Lindor singled, which was worrisome enough, but then Hammel induced a lineout from Austin Jackson and a fly out from Jose Ramirez to end the inning. And that should’ve been Hammel’s night.
[very Ron Howard voice] It wasn’t.
Edwin Encarnacion took Hammel’s first offering of the seventh—the very first pitch he threw—and whacked over the left center wall for a solo homer. And that should’ve been it for Hammel.
[very Ron Howard voice] It wasn’t.
Two batters later, Carlos Santana absolutely crushed a solo home run to right field—the third homer given up by Hammel, who definitely should’ve been removed after that.
[very Ron Howard voice] He still wasn’t.
Although nothing else catastrophic happened in the three batters between Santana’s homer and Ned Yost finally putting down the crossword puzzle and bringing in Brandon Maurer—I mean, Zimmer singled, stole second and advanced to third on a Salvador Perez error before Roberto Perez walked and Hammel was mercifully removed—how INSANE is it that Ned couldn’t read the tea leaves here? We have a guy who has proven time and again he can only go through the order twice before the wheels fall off, then he surrenders two hits, including a homer, to the first four batters of the third time through the order… and he pitches to five more batters.
Unbelievable. This isn’t a recap, incidentally. It started out that way, but now it’s morphed into me railing against Ned Yost for driving me batty.
Well hey, with Danny Duffy hurt and the Royals going on 26 innings between runs, Sunday’s finale should be a real festival. Eric Skoglund gets the emergency start, with Carlos Carrasco toeing the slab for Cleveland.