Stephen Strasburg entered the Washington Nationals’ game against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday afternoon with a perfect 10-0 record on the season.
Jason Hammel, however, took the mound carrying some perfection of his own: a 9-0 record facing the Nationals over a decade-long career.
In fact, Hammel is the only active pitcher in the major leagues to have at least nine wins and no losses against a single opponent and just one of 12 pitchers to achieve the feat since 1913.
But in his 13th career start against Washington, none of those numbers mattered to the 33-year-old.
“It doesn’t give me any extra confidence, I just go out there and pitch my game,” said Hammel, who allowed one earned run on five hits with four strikeouts. “The numbers are the numbers and for whatever reason, that’s the way it is. But it doesn’t really make me feel any better about a matchup. I just feel like I work well against these guys — a right-handed heavy lineup, and it works well against my stuff.”
While his team would go on to lose, 5-4, in 12 innings on a walkoff single by Jayson Werth, Hammel went toe-to-toe with Strasburg, who had not seen the red-hot Cubs since 2013, for seven solid innings.
SEE ALSO: Thrilling series between Nationals, Cubs already evoking thoughts of October
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who entered Wednesday with 38 career at-bats against Hammel — more than double that of any other Nationals player — said that the team’s offensive approach remained the same, but that it would be important to watch Hammel’s curveball, a pitch the right-hander has favored much more this season than in recent years.
“He’s having a great year, he’s got good stuff and he throws strikes,” Zimmerman said before the game. “I think the biggest thing, too, is that you just kind of have got to watch as the game goes on, and see if he’s got a feel for that curveball. I don’t think we do anything differently. We just kind of go out there and keep the approach we’ve had over the past couple of weeks.”
Hammel, who is 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA, has almost doubled his use of the curveball this season and relied on his two-seam fastball slightly less, which now clocks in at an average speed of 91.8 mph.
But Hammel ultimately used the curveball sparingly on Wednesday, just eight times across 84 total pitches, thanks in part to improved control of his two-seamer, something coach Joe Maddon was quick to mention following the Cubs’ one-run defeat.
“That might have been the best I’ve seen him today,” Maddon said. “I keep talking about fastball command, he had it, and when he has it that’s what he pitches. He was really good.”
Said Hammel: “I commanded the two-seamer really well today. I was able to get ahead and you know it shows. I’m a lot better when I have fastball command and I can be more efficient that way.”
Neither Hammel nor Strasburg gave an inch all afternoon. After each gave up one run in the first inning — Hammel off of a wild pitch and Strasburg off a lead-off home run by Chicago second baseman Ben Zobrist — they both threw six scoreless frames before ending their outings.
Hammel was replaced by reliever Pedro Strop in the bottom of the eighth with the score still knotted 1-1. Strasburg threw 105 pitches and struck out eight, allowing six hits, while neither starter was credited with a decision.
So, despite the wild finish and seven combined runs which followed their exits, both pitchers escaped with their records unscathed.