Jason Hammel didn't arrive at Turner Field on Saturday night with many fond memories. He'd seen enough of the Braves in his three seasons in the National League.
“These guys have given me nightmares, especially here,” he said.
But it was here where the Orioles' 29-year-old right-hander would give his team its best pitching performance of the season.
Hammel threw the best game of his seven-year career, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finishing with his first complete-game shutout win. He allowed just one hit on the night — Jason Heyward's single to left with two outs in the seventh — propelling the Orioles to a 5-0 win over the Braves at Turner Field.
“He's been solid,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You can tell I'm sure if you look at the numbers against Atlanta and I think it gives you the idea that he's a little different pitcher. It was fun to watch.”
With the win, the Orioles (38-27) recorded their sixth victory in seven games and kept pace with the Yankees, staying 11/2 games back of American League East -leading New York.
Hammel retired 17 straight at one point, using his curveball and slider to get ahead of hitters. Against a lineup that included five left-handed hitters, he used his changeup well, allowing him to keep Atlanta hitters off balance with his fastball.
“It's the same thing he's done all year, obviously not seven no-hit (innings) but he's been tremendous this year,” said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who drove in three runs. “He's been that guy that every fifth day you know you have a darn good chance of winning if you put up a run or two.”
Heading into the seventh, Hammel had allowed just one baserunner — a walk to Dan Uggla to open the second inning — until issuing another walk to Uggla with two outs in the seventh inning. Then Heyward came to the plate and lined a 3-1 sinker low and away to the opposite-field for a single.
Catcher Matt Wieters said it might have been too good a pitch against Heyward, a good low-ball hitter who entered the game 5-for-5 in his career against Hammel.
“Maybe you make it a little middle, a little more up and you get him to pop it up, but you never know,” Wieters said. “It was a good pitch and he put a good swing on it. He's a good low-ball hitter so he's not going to miss that pitch much.”
By the sixth inning, everyone in the dugout knew Hammel was flirting with a no hitter.
“I think everybody knew what was going on,” Showalter said. “Guys were starting to scatter a little in the dugout. I noticed everybody was standing in the same place after the sixth inning, including me.”
Said Hammel: “You think about a no-hitter until you give up a hit. I'd like to say I wasn't thinking about it, but I was. But it didn't affect my game plan.”
Despite losing the no-hitter, Hammel went the distance, striking out eight and walking two. Nursing a sore right knee in his push-off leg, Hammel benefited from an extra day of rest. He fought through pain in the knee in his final two innings, but all parties agreed he deserved the chance to close out the game.
“I'm definitely going to be sore [Sunday] ,” Hammel said. “I came right in here and immediately got on the ice. [The extra day was] a huge difference. It's a day-to-day thing. Some days it feels great. Some days it doesn't feel so awesome. We're just going to keep going.”
Hammel (7-2, 2.87 ERA) went into the ninth having thrown 97 pitches, but needed just six pitches to finish the Braves , ending with a Brian McCann ground out to J.J. Hardy behind second base with the infield shifted toward right field, giving the Orioles their first complete-game win this year. It was just Hammel's second start — in 13 outings — in which he's gone more than seven innings and his first win in his last four starts.
“Without the fastball command I haven't been getting deep into games,” Hammel said. “Six innings isn't acceptable to me,” To get really deep [Saturday] and give [the bullpen] the whole night off, that's the icing on the cake.”
Hammel had struggled against the Braves, going 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in five previous starts against Atlanta — he was 0-2 with a 11.74 ERA in two starts at Turner Field.
Since being acquired in February in the trade that sent Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado, Hammel has had an up-and-down season. He opened the season 6-1, which included carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins in his Orioles debut on April 8. But in his previous three outings before last night, he hadn't won a game. He's coming off a start in which he issued a career-high five walks and allowed 10 baserunners through the game's first two innings.
Braves starter Brandon Beachy, who entered the day leading the NL in ERA (1.98), dominated the Orioles early, retiring the first 11 batters he faced before leaving the game abruptly with right elbow soreness after issuing a two-out walk to Chris Davis in the fourth.
The Orioles capitalized on the injury. Atlanta reliever Anthony Varvaro walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases, and Mark Reynolds hit a 0-2 pitch to left field for a two-run single to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Roberts, playing in his fifth game since coming back from multiple concussions, drove in three runs for the first time since April 29, 2011 with a pair of two-out singles. In the fifth, he drove in Steve Pearce and added a two-run single past first base in the seventh to give the Orioles a 5-0 lead. Both hits were set up by well-executed bunts by Hammel, who was hitting in the No. 9 spot with the Orioles playing in an NL park.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times