CHICAGO -- Don’t be alarmed if television cameras show Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel eating a bag of potato chips in the dugout between innings of his first post-All-Star-break outing on Saturday against the Texas Rangers.
Hammel is trying to find the right combination of hydration and sodium intake as he begins a quest for a better second half while putting behind him past cramping in his legs and hands.
“We’re addressing it,” Hammel said Friday. “There’s new things you can take that have a lot of potassium. Just trying to find the right formula. You might see me on the bench with a bag of chips because [team physician Stephen Adams, M.D.] said it’s the carbs and the salt.”
Hammel has been on a new diet since last offseason, all with the next two and a half months in mind. It’s no secret he has struggled at this time of year in the past as his career second-half ERA is 1.16 runs higher than his first-half mark, which is the 13th-largest increase among pitchers since 2000 with similar experience, according to research by ESPN Stats & Info. Last year’s jump was even more pronounced as Hammel’s 2.86 first-half ERA ballooned to 5.10 in the second half. In the process he became a source for criticism from fans. He says his thoughts during the break never went to the negative side regarding what’s to come.
“Just try to stick to the process, which I committed to at the beginning of the year,” Hammel said. “I had a cheat day, for sure. You’re going to have those.”
He is allowed during the break, but the other days during the season have been all about preparing for 32 or more successful starts. Hammel took after Jake Arrieta in many aspects of preparation -- right down to growing a beard. Slimming down also was part of the equation. After some first-half struggles right before the break, Hammel is committed to a better finish than a year ago. He’ll get his first crack at it on Saturday afternoon.
“Trying not to look too far ahead, but I’m excited about what’s to come,” he said.