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Jason Hammel pitches well, says right knee is in far better shape than last season

Right-hander

Jason Hammel

made his first appearance of the exhibition season

, and he did nothing to diminish his confidence in his surgically repaired right knee.

He was all smiles after throwing 39 pitches — 27 of them for strikes — and hitting 93 mph on the Ed Smith Stadium radar gun during a two-inning performance in which he allowed no runs and just one hit.

“Nice to be out there with two good knees,’’ Hammel said. “Very, very happy that the results were good. There’s still stuff to work on but it was a good start. Good first one.”

Hammel was on his way to establishing himself as the

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Orioles
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’ staff ace when his 2012 season was interrupted by a piece of floating cartilage in his right knee. He was sidelined twice and eventually returned to deliver two solid performances in the

American League

Division Series against the

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New York Yankees
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, but he says his leg is much stronger than it was in the playoffs.

“It’s night and day,’’ Hammel said. “I can feel my lower half. ... I felt outstanding.

“... I made a goal for me in the offseason to be able to come out and pitch without a brace. So, check that one off the list.”

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