WASHINGTON – With the bullpen tired and hurting, the Orioles needed Jason Hammel to give them an extended start. He answered with an eight-inning outing, equaling the team’s longest of the season.
Hammel’s effective eight innings were not only badly needed by the team, but he needed them for his confidence. While Hammel had gone six in seven of his first 10 starts, he had yet to complete even seven.
The Orioles backed Hammel with 15 hits, beating the Nationals 6-2 before a sellout crowd of 41,260 at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon.
Hammel (7-2) allowed two runs on eight hits, struck out a season-high eight, which was also a team high and didn’t walk a batter. It was the third time an Orioles starter completed eight.
With three straight starts of five innings and another of 5 2/3 in Toronto, surely Hammel knew how much his team needed a long start.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Hammel said.
His manager was, though naturally he didn’t discuss it with Hammel.
“He was the difference today,” Showalter said.
Hammel’s most impressive innings were the fourth and fifth when he shut the Nationals down after innings the Orioles scored runs. While Hammel has won lots of games, his team has scored at least six runs in six of his seven wins.
“They’ve been putting runs up for me all year,” Hammel said. “It’s a lot easier to pitch when you have the lead then when you’re down.”
Darren O’Day finished up with a scoreless ninth.
Tommy Hunter was unavailable because his right hand was bruised, and Jim Johnson threw 37 pitches in Sunday’s loss. Showalter even considered sending Hammel out for the ninth, but decided after 107 pitches, he’d seen enough.
On Tuesday, Kevin Gausman makes his second major league start against rookie Nathan Karns, who is being called by the Nationals because Ross Detwiler has an oblique strain. Showalter is hoping that Gausman can pitch more than the five innings he was allowed to throw last Thursday in his debut against the Blue Jays.
“If we can get one more good outing tomorrow, we can get back on our feet down there physically,” Showalter said.
The Nationals (26-25) scored a run in the second off Hammel. Adam LaRoche led off with a single and stole second. LaRoche scored on a one-out double by Tyler Moore.
In the fourth, the Orioles (28-23) scored three off Gio Gonzalez (3-3). Chris Davis led off with a walk. Matt Wieters singled him to third. With one out, Yamaico Navarro singled to drive in Davis. After Hammel bunted Navarro to second, Nick Markakis extended his hitting streak to 12 with a single that scored Wieters and Navarro to make it 3-1.
Markakis was relieved that Hammel gave the bullpen a rest, considering they’re playing a stretch of 17 games in as many days against Tampa Bay, New York, Toronto, Washington and Detroit.
“Every start’s important. Every game is important, especially coming off yesterday, I think it makes it a little more important. We know what we are up against,” Markakis said.
In the fifth, Adam Jones doubled to lead off. He moved to third on Davis’ single and a sacrifice fly by Wieters.
In the bottom of the sixth, Denard Span led off with a triple, and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s one-out single.
In the seventh, Davis and Wieters began the inning with singles off Craig Stammen. Navarro’s RBI single scored Davis for a 5-2 lead.
Gonzalez pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, walking four and striking out three.
In the eighth, the Orioles scored their sixth run against Henry Rodriguez. Manny Machado led off with a single. It was his third hit, giving him 23 multi-hit games. Machado stole second. J.J. Hardy walked, and scored on Jones’ single.
Hammel has been hard on himself this year, but after the game, said he was satisfied.
“For the year, definitely the best start. It was all because of fastball command,” he said.
Wieters echoed the thought.
“That’s by far the best he’s thrown the ball this year,” Wieters said.
Hammel is now 6-0 with a 3.15 ERA in eight starts against the Nationals.
“Maybe I just pitch well here,” Hammel said.
NOTES: The Orioles have scored at least five runs in their last 10 road games, and that’s a club record, according to Elias.
-Navarro had 18 RBIs in his previous 77 major league games and none in his first six games with the Orioles.
-Machado doubled in the fourth. He has a major league-leading 23 doubles.
-Alex Burnett, who the Orioles had designated for assignment on Thursday, has been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Cubs
-The 14 runners left on base was a season-high.