That “when healthy” qualifier is a pretty big one, however, if only because that hasn’t been lately. Hammel pitched just three innings of his start in Detroit back on July 13th, and then didn’t make another start until September 6th, against the Yankees. He went 5 innings in that game, and then lasted 3.2 innings against the Rays on September 11th, and hasn’t made another appearance since then. In other words, the Orioles will be anchoring their ALDS staff with a pitcher who hasn’t appeared in a game in just under a month, and has a total of 11.2 innings pitched since the All-Star game.
Somewhat reassuring for Showalter, I assume, is that, in that September 6th game against the Yankees Hammel struck out six and walked just two in holding the Bombers to just a single run, so if rust was an issue then he wasn’t showing it at all. Still, I think the Yankees are catching a slight break here. For one thing, the Orioles could have opted to go with Miguel Gonzalez, who would have been pitching on his normal schedule and has pretty much owned the Yankees so far this year. What’s more, no matter how effective he is, you’d have to assume that Hammel is working on a pitch count after getting no chance to stretch himself out other than working in simulated games lately. If the Yankees can make him work early in the game and get into the O’s bullpen, they can at least get the opportunity to make those relievers work hard as well in advance of tomorrow’s Game 2. If Hammel were starting tomorrow, the Orioles would have the cushion of Tuesday’s day off to rest those relievers if Hammel had to exit early.
This doesn’t guarantee success for the Yankees or anything, but every little bit helps in a tight five game series like this. Then again, starting Joe Saunders in the wild card game in Texas was supposed to be a disaster, and indeed the Orioles were always supposed to regress to their run differential, stepping aside for the likes of Tampa Bay and Anaheim back in August. Neither of those predicted debacles took place, so there’s probably at least even odds that this choice comes out golden for them as well.