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Jason Hammel on first-inning woes: 'I have to exorcise some demons'

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn’t mince words when asked about his No. 3 starter heading into the postseason after Jason Hammel had another outing with mixed results -- though he earned the win in the Cubs’ 9-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night.

“It’s very fluid,” Maddon said of that spot in the rotation. “Absolutely, it’s fluid. There’s a lot of discussion involved in that part of the rotation. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not, so we’ll see how it all plays out.”

Hammel lasted five innings, giving up three earned runs -- one more scored due to his own throwing error -- while alternating between looking shaky (first inning), then solid (innings 2-4), then shaky again (fifth inning).

“It’s disappointing,” Hammel said. “It doesn’t look that great right now, but sometimes you have to compete with what you’ve got. Trying to fix it in the middle of a pennant race isn’t the easiest thing to do, but like I said, I’m out there working hard, trying to figure it out. Small things are falling into place.”

Maybe Hammel can take solace in the fact he walked only one hitter, and that came in his final inning of work. Free passes have been an issue in the second half for him, as have first-inning runs. He gave up two more on Monday on three hits and his own throwing error on a pick-off attempt.

“I need to exorcise some demons for that first inning,” Hammel claimed. “A lot of good things happened tonight. I found the slider. Sometimes the box score doesn’t quite tell the story exactly of what happened.”

He’s right in one sense, as Hammel had to get extra outs in both the second and third innings as errors by Dexter Folwer and Starlin Castro extended innings for the Brewers. But he got out of both jams before a walk and home run in the fifth ended his day.

“I have some ideas,” Maddon said. “We’ll see if we can sharpen him up. I think it’s in there. It’s all about location from what I’m seeing.

“He’s not injured, and his stuff is good.”

So there’s hope, but time is running out. The problem is the Cubs don’t have many other ready options. Clayton Richard and Travis Wood looked good again in relief of Hammel on Monday, but neither has started a game lately, and it might not be feasible for them to do so in a playoff contest with little preparation. A Game 3 in the postseason is still Hammel’s job to lose.

“If I’m the third guy, it is what it is,” he said. “[I’m] past the ego thing. You check your ego at the door. Once October hits, you put your best guy out there. I want to be that guy.”