Hammel was speaking after his first spring outing in a "B" game at Cubs Park, scheduled to make up for games washed out by rain on Saturday. A free agent this offseason, he signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Cubs, and had his first start delayed because of rain. On Monday, he gave up four hits, including three infield singles, and walked one, hit a batter and struck out three over two innings against the Giants.
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio was eager to see the right-hander, who pitched in front of a nearly empty stadium and faced a roster of Minor Leaguers.
"My first impressions [of Hammel]? They're pretty good," Bosio said before the outing. "I think we're unleashing somebody today, to be honest with you."
Bosio and Hammel have meshed because they are both duffers. If Hammel doesn't understand what Bosio is trying to explain, they just use golf terms. So far, it's worked with Hammel's slider. The right-hander felt it was a little flat last year and Bosio already has helped Hammel get more tilt on the pitch.
Hammel had arthroscopic knee surgery twice in 2012, and was bothered by a strained right forearm last year with the Orioles. He went 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 26 games (23 starts).
Prior to the start, Hammel told catcher George Kottaras that he wanted to work on fastballs and maybe a few changeups.
"I ended up facing 12 hitters in two innings, so we got to mix everything in," Hammel said. "To be able to throw strikes with breaking balls this early is obviously a good thing."
Last year at this point, Hammel said his "arm felt dead", but called that typical. This year, he feels better, and says that is most likely because he's fully recovered from the knee surgeries. The knee problems affected his mechanics, and most likely were to blame for the arm problems.
"He's a hard worker," Bosio said of Hammel. "When pitchers and catchers were here, he was one of the last guys to leave every day. Knock on wood, I hope we don't see any repercussions from anything. He has not been restricted on any [workouts]. He's gone about his work with [Tim Buss], our strength coach, and has not complained one time. He has asked for extra pitches and throwing sessions. I see no restrictions, no hold backs, no concerns going into today."
Before, Hammel said, he didn't have his legs under him and had to use his arm more.
"Now, I feel I'm together and still think the mechanics can be cleaned up a little bit, but for the first [outing], it was OK," he said.
The last two years, the Cubs have dealt two of their starting pitchers at the Trade Deadline, and Hammel seems to fit that pattern. Bosio takes a pitcher who is coming off a tough season or an injury, gets them on track, and the Cubs then deal them for prospects. They did it with Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman.
"It's never easy to see any of our guys traded, especially in the position that we've been in the last couple years, getting competitive, team starts to play well [in late July]," Bosio said. "When you're in our situation and teams come calling offering some big prospects, you have to listen.
"Who knows? Maybe things change this year where we extend this guy," Bosio said. "The last couple years we've been able to get our starters hot and we've been able to get a hell of a return with those guys."
Hammel is well aware of all the Cubs' July transactions.
"I'm sure [the media] will talk about it all year," Hammel said. "I honestly could care less and that's the answer you'll get from me every time. I'm here to win ballgames and that's it, that's my bottom line. I'm here to help the Cubs."
And he likes what he's seen. Hammel has been around teams that are in rebuilding mode, having played for the Rays, the Rockies and the Orioles.
"You need a little bit of veteran leadership, you need some young guys who don't give a you know what, and other guys in the middle who are at that level where they're becoming professionals and we have that mix right now," Hammel said. "We just need a few guys in the clubhouse to take charge and the other guys to follow suit and everybody push in the same direction and right now we're getting that. We've got some young guys starting to show their colors a little bit and some older guys who have been around to do it long enough. It's a good mix."
Hammel is much more optimistic than most preseason prognosticators about the Cubs.
"I like proving people wrong," he said. "I like the out of nowhere type stuff. That's how my whole career has been. There were a lot of naysayers who said, 'Oh, he's pretty good, but not one of the best,' and that's just fuel, and that just fuels this whole clubhouse."