(OAKLAND) -- The Oakland Athletics have a four-game lead on the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West division, and starting pitcher Jason Hammel doesn't want to be the guy who lets the team down every five days when he takes the ball.
Hammel was humbled by his first four starts in an Oakland uniform after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs: he was 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA as the A's saw their division lead shrink to one game after the addition of Hammel to their already-strong rotation. But he turned it around, somewhat, in his last outing, a win over the Tampa Bay Rays where he threw 5.2 scoreless innings.
That's what both Hammel, the A's and the Oakland fans want to see more of today in the finale of a four-game set against the Minnesota Twins: zeroes.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old righty wasn't sharp against the Rays last Tuesday night: he gave up seven hits and four walks while striking out only two batters. But Hammel made some key pitches when he needed to in escaping tough situations with runners on base, and that's what the A's want to see more of today.
In essence, Hammel has become the No. 5 starter now behind Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. That relative lack of pressure should also help him make better pitches: he doesn't have to be perfect—he just needs to get outs when the team needs them.
"I want to give these guys something to cheer about," Hammel told MLB.com after that win over Tampa Bay. "I know what I can do as a pitcher, and right now it's that tough part of the season that you just got to get through. I'm going to continue to battle, continue to work hard."
He will definitely be seeing better offensive support from the A's, who struggled a bit after that sweltering Texas road trip and the trade of Yoenis Cespedes. The Twins' pitching staff may have something to do with it, too, but Oakland has scored 15 runs in the last two games after scoring just 33 runs in the previous ten games.
(The scoring slump began in Houston, by the way, a few days before Cespedes was traded—which most "experts" seemed to ignore.)
Either way, the A's offense is humming again, and that is good news for all things Oakland—even though the bullpen lost its consecutive-innings scoreless streak last night, it's been lights out during a time when the other parts of the team were struggling.
And that's what these A's do: they pick each other up, and Hammel just needs to do his part while letting his teammates take care of the rest.
Game time is 1:05 p.m. today; Minnesota sends its best starter to the mound: Phil Hughes is 11-8 with a 4.01 ERA, and he hopes to keep Oakland from sweeping the series and winning its 13th straight overall against the Twins.