Hammel cruises in Cubs' latest gem

Right-hander tosses North Siders' 16th quality start in 19 games

Hammel cruises in Cubs' latest gem

CINCINNATI -- Everything Jason Hammel did this offseason to improve himself physically and mentally is paying off.

The right-hander posted his fourth quality start Sunday, holding the Reds to three hits over six scoreless innings in the Cubs' 9-0 victory.

"Jason Hammel, that's as well as he can throw a baseball," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

"Things are translating," Hammel said. "I feel really good about the whole process right now. It's my job to stick with it right now. I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel or get better. Right now, it's pretty good. I followed [catcher Miguel Montero] around today. Getting five, six runs early -- our offense is giving our starting staff room for error. That's a big benefit when you're on the road."

This season, Hammel has given up two earned runs over 24 innings while striking out 22, and his ERA now is 0.75, which is lower than teammate Jake Arrieta's 0.87, and Arrieta has a no-hitter.

Hammel is now 3-0, joining Arrieta and John Lackey, who both opened the season 3-0. This is the first time the Cubs have had three pitchers post 3-0 records prior to May 1. Sunday also was the 16th quality start by a Cubs pitcher in 19 games.

Hammel's strong start

Maddon was impressed by Hammel in the first half of last year, and he also saw improvement in Spring Training. The right-hander has carried his success into the season.

"The difference today was I thought the velocity was even firmer, and the ability to command his breaking ball was even better," Maddon said. "He just had everything going on today."

It certainly helps when his teammates score three runs in the first inning and don't stop.

"[The offense] gives us chances to go out there and be aggressive in the strike zone," Hammel said. "Where you usually get into trouble is when you're not throwing strikes. As a starting staff, we want to be the backbone, we want to be that foundation. I feel we've done a good job of that so far."

The win was the Cubs rotation's 13th this season, tops in the National League. Chicago starters are now 13-4 with a 2.36 ERA.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.