Hammel finds rhythm after early butterflies

Right-hander pleased with first spring outing

Hammel finds rhythm after early butterflies

MESA, Ariz. -- Jason Hammel walked the first batter he faced on Monday and admitted the problem was butterflies.

"That was Spring Training nerves, honestly," the Cubs pitcher said of the walk in an eventual 3-2 Royals victory. "The first hitter, my heart was beating out of my chest, I don't know why. I was able to calm it down and work on the things I needed to work on."

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After the walk to the Royals' Reymond Fuentes, Hammel was able to retire the next three batters, including a strikeout of Alex Gordon. Hammel said his timing is still off, but he felt his fastball had a good downhill plane, and that's a good step.

"I've seen a difference in the way he's throwing the baseball," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "His delivery, to me, is fascinating. When I had him with the Rays, his delivery was prone to getting off line with his fastball because of the way his front leg landed. Now, all of a sudden, he's done something different and I love the way he's getting over his front side. I love the delivery in general.

"From what I'm seeing, I believe you'll find better overall fastball command consistently," Maddon said. "His breaking ball has always been good, command of the breaking ball has always been good. If he's able to nail down where that fastball is going early, he will take off, he will take off quickly. The thing will be to maintain that delivery all season."

Fastball command is the name of the game, and that's what Hammel is focused on this spring. If you check video of his pitching days with the Rays and now, you'll see more of a shoulder and hip turn in the right-hander's delivery.

"When I do click, it feels much better and the delivery is effortless," Hammel said. "The timing is what we're searching for."

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.