On Memorial Day, Cubs pitchers shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0, while holding their offense to just one hit and one walk over the full nine innings.
Unfortunately, the starter, Jason Hammel, was only able to contribute 2.0 innings to the effort, because he was taken out with right hamstring discomfort while warming up for the third.
He has since reported feeling both fine and optimistic – and the bullpen did rally to throw seven perfect innings thereafter – but Cubs fans were rightfully concerned when Hammel left his start, because they’ve seen this exact situation before.
Last season, you’ll recall, Hammel left his start on July 8 with some discomfort in the lower portion of his left hamstring and was never quite the same after he returned. If you found yourself extra sensitive yesterday, then, it is understandable.
However, from multiple reports (here, here and here), yesterday’s incident appears to have been a run-of-the-mill leg cramp that shouldn’t affect his upcoming start (at least, in terms of his ability to make it).
Leading the I swear it was nothing serious charge is Jason Hammel himself. “As of right now, it felt like a cramp,” Hammel said via multiple reports. “Obviously, we’ll wait and see how it feels [Tuesday]. I’m very optimistic that it was just a cramp.” Maddon later added that the Cubs feel confident in Hammel’s ability to make his next start (they said that last year, and he did make his next start, sorta – more on that in a bit) and he genuinely does not sound overly concerned.
Sometimes a cramp is just a cramp.
More encouragingly, Maddon commented that, even though they really thought it was just a simple hamstring cramp (it was hot and humid yesterday), they couldn’t exactly sit there and wait it out as long as it would take. At some point, they were going to have to make a decision, so Maddon pulled the trigger and brought in Travis Wood.
And Travis Wood did an excellent job. With his unexpected appearance and injury-rushed warmup, Wood threw four perfect innings of baseball in relief and it didn’t go unnoticed by Hammel (who also added some further confirmation that the cramping is nothing serious):
— Jason Hammel (@HammelTime39) May 31, 2016
Speaking of Wood, Joe Maddon indicated that either he or Trevor Cahill would be the pitchers to step into the rotation, should Hammel ultimately require some time off. And although the early signs are pointing away from a DL stint or rotation shuffling, that is hardly a guarantee.
If you recall Hammel’s 2015 hamstring injury (to the opposite leg), Hammel didn’t technically miss a start, but did receive a lot of time off. Because his injury occurred on July 8, the Cubs were able to cruise into the All-Star Break without Hammel and then rearrange the rotation so that he pitched on the fifth day back. All in all, Hammel didn’t pitch for thirteen days that time. And it’s not as if those days weren’t clearly needed.
Up until that point, Hammel had pitched brilliantly for the Cubs (2.89 ERA), but he was clearly affected by the hamstring injury last season (5.10 ERA in the second half), even after an MRI revealed nothing serious whatsoever.
So cautious optimism will be the conclusion today. It’s quite possible that this was a single, isolated, weather-induced incident that will neither reoccur nor negatively impact his future performance. Or, of course, it could be something closer to last season’s outcome. I will say that the comments and suggestions surrounding this year’s incident are far less pessimistic than last year’s (and those weren’t even all that bad).
Hammel’s next scheduled start comes on Saturday, June 4 against the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field (1:20 CT) and I’m tentatively expecting him to make that start. With any luck, after a few weeks, this won’t even be something we remember.