Hammel helps own cause against Cardinals

Hammel helps own cause against Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Before Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel even took the mound on Tuesday night, he had hit a two-run double to extend his personal hitting streak to three games, brought his RBI total to a career-high five and had a six-run cushion.

"I think it makes every pitcher better," Hammel said of the 6-0 lead he had en route to a 12-3 win over the Cardinals. "It's nice to have room for error. That's what run support does. I took my first swing before I threw my first pitch."

The Cubs scored as many runs in the first inning on Tuesday night as they had in their three previous games, all losses. And they kept adding on, evening the series against St. Louis. Hammel picked up the win, giving up one run over 7 1/3 innings, and his ERA is now a very respectable 2.17.

Hammel's outstanding performance

Dexter Fowler got things started -- which is exactly what manager Joe Maddon wants -- with a leadoff double, and moved up on Jason Heyward's groundout before scoring on Kris Bryant's single. Anthony Rizzo singled and Ben Zobrist walked to load the bases, then St. Louis starter Michael Wacha walked Jorge Soler to force in a run.

Rizzo went home on Addison Russell's fielder's choice, then David Ross and Hammel each hit two-run doubles to open the six-run lead.

"To have Jason move [Fowler] like he did, there's the team concept right there," Maddon said. "That stuck in our heads really early. Everybody had a piece of that win tonight."

This was the first time the Cubs scored six runs in the first in St. Louis since July 31, 1994, a game that ended in a 9-7 Chicago win. The Cubs last scored a half-dozen runs in one inning in the fifth on Sept. 17, 2015, against the Pirates.

Hammel said he was "effectively wild" in the outing. He's 6-1 for the second time in his career, matching 2012. And he didn't get nervous when the team faltered offensively.

"It's a 162-game season," he said. "We don't hit the panic button when we don't score runs or don't pitch. It's part of the whole ebb and flow of the season. We're not robots, and we can't do it all the time. You're going to run into some good teams. We never panic, and we're going game by game, and tonight we had a good one."

The solid start has helped justify the commitment Hammel made this offseason to get better physically and mentally. Can he keep it going in the second half?

"I do feel different," he said. "I know I can get better. I'm not thinking that far down the road. I'm going game by game, pitch by pitch. I think that will be the right mentality for me, instead of 'Don't falter.' I'm not a negative thinker any more. I'm going to stay here and now."

Said Maddon: "I believe it's sustainable. If he knows where his fastball is going, he will pitch deeply into a lot of games."

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.