Lefty Hammond takes a right turn
BY KEVIN KELLY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Chris Hammond admits the numbers were ugly.
Three appearances into the season, the Reds' veteran relief pitcher carried a ghastly 189.00 ERA. He didn't retire a batter in allowing four runs over his first two appearances.
"I think those first three outings were just a fluke," Hammond said Tuesday. "It's not like I was getting hit around the ballpark. I don't remember one hard-hit ball. It's just all the runners I put out there scored."
The left-hander's ERA has declined steadily since.
With fellow left-handed relief pitcher Kent Mercker on the 15-day disabled list since May 14 - Mercker is eligible to come off Friday - Hammond has received more work in more important situations. Two scoreless innings Tuesday lowered his ERA to 5.87 in 15 appearances spanning 15 1/3 innings this season.
"I hope Hammond gets a little more pitching in than he has," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He's pitched really well. After he got rid of the infinity ERA, if you throw that out, I don't know what his ERA would be. But it wouldn't be too bad."
Subtract the first three appearances, and Hammond's ERA over his past 12 outings is 1.80.
In eight appearances this month, Hammond has allowed just one earned run on seven hits over 10 1/3 innings. He retired all seven Tigers batters he faced in two appearances last weekend.
So what's behind the turnaround?
"It's just getting out there and pitching," Hammond said. "That's it."
Narron does not see an extreme difference but believes Hammond's success can be traced to control.
"He's throwing more strikes," Narron said.
Hammond did not make a relief appearance from April 23 to May 2.
In seven appearances before the layoff, he threw 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. In seven appearances after the layoff, entering Tuesday, he threw 71 percent of his pitches for strikes.
"When he's throwing his changeup for strikes, and he's locating his other pitches, he's pretty effective against left-handers or right-handers," Narron said.
Around the time center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was about to come off the DL, the Reds approached Hammond with an idea that would free up a spot for Griffey on the 25-man roster and get him consistent work.
Would Hammond be willing to spend some time with Triple-A Louisville?
The 40-year-old, who in December signed a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007, elected to stay in Cincinnati. The Reds reinstated Griffey from the DL on May 11 and optioned outfielder Chris Denorfia.
"I throw a bullpen (session) every other day if I'm not pitching," Hammond said. "So I stayed sharp.
"When you can get in there in a tough game, your concentration gets there. Then if you do well, your confidence starts getting better. That's really the only big (difference)."