First-inning woes continue to dog Hammel

First-inning woes continue to dog Hammel

PITTSBURGH -- Of Jason Hammel's first 16 pitches on Tuesday, only five were strikes. That's not a good ratio.

"Obviously, it [ticks] me off," Hammel said after his outing in the Cubs' 5-4 loss to the Pirates in the first game of a doubleheader at PNC Park. "It's your job as a starter to set the tone there, and I haven't done it in a while. I've got to figure it out."

The Pirates took advantage and opened a 3-0 lead in the first as Andrew McCutchen hit an RBI single and Travis Snider added a two-run single. The Cubs got the bullpen going in the first inning -- and had someone throwing in the second, third and fourth -- before manager Joe Maddon finally pulled Hammel after he gave up an RBI double to Neil Walker with two outs in the fourth.

"His command was not good today -- his command was off," Maddon said of Hammel, who was coming off a win over the Cardinals.

Hammel has given up 17 earned runs in the first inning this season for a 5.46 ERA, his worst inning.

"There were too many uncompetitive pitches today," Hammel said. "It was unacceptable. It was pretty embarrassing the first inning. I was battling myself the whole inning. To give up three runs that inning was actually a pretty good job, because it was pretty embarrassing."

The Cubs were hoping to make a statement in this four-game series against the Pirates, who are closing in on securing home-field advantage as the top National League Wild Card team while putting heat on the division-leading Cardinals. Chicago did rally to tie the game with a three-run seventh but it wasn't enough. It's the sixth time in his last eight starts that Hammel has been unable to finish the sixth.

"What I'm doing right now isn't acceptable," Hammel said. "I have to get to work. We're running out of time. I take a lot of pride in my work and everything and, obviously, it's not translating. I can't get down on myself. Outstanding job by the guys to bounce back again today and make a game of it. They've been doing that too often. I need to start pulling my own weight here."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.