The Cubs set off alarm bells on Twitter by taking Jason Hammel out of Wednesday’s game at Wrigley Field.
It took about five minutes between the sight of Clayton Richard warming up against the St. Louis Cardinals and a team spokesman announcing over the press-box microphone that Hammel had left the game with left hamstring tightness.
Hammel needed 12 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning against St. Louis, but that would be it on a cool, rainy night. It became another reminder the Cubs will need at least one more quality starter if they plan to make it through the 162-game marathon and play deep into October.
“Very frustrating,” Hammel said after a 6-5 loss that showed why the Cardinals are the best team in baseball. The Cubs had been one strike away from winning it when Pedro Strop gave up Jhonny Peralta’s two-run homer in the ninth inning, making the crowd of 37,993 suddenly very quiet.
The Cubs won’t know the extent of the injury until Hammel gets an MRI on Thursday — he said he had “no idea” if this would be a disabled-list situation.
“Hopefully, we’ll find out some good news,” Hammel said. “Hopefully, it’s just a strain or something like that and easily treatable. I guess the silver lining is the All-Star break is probably the best time for it to happen.”
Hammel said he felt a “real sharp pain in the back of the knee” as his front leg landed after throwing his second pitch.
Around the same time, the Oakland A’s pulled Scott Kazmir from his start at Yankee Stadium — leading to Hug Watch speculation on social media — before describing it as left triceps tightness.
The A’s are one of several underperforming teams trying to figure out which way to turn at the July 31 trade deadline. Kazmir — who will hit the free-agent market after this season — began the day with a 2.65 ERA and pitched in the All-Star Game last year.
This is supposed to be a sellers’ market with the second wild card and so many teams stuck in the middle. Instead of a three-month rental, the Cubs would prefer a pitcher with the potential to help next year and maybe beyond. (Who wouldn’t?)
But there are legitimate questions about how much financial flexibility Theo Epstein’s front office will have. The Cubs (46-38) have to be pragmatic when they already trail the Cardinals (55-30) by 8 1/2 games in the division and could be looking at a one-game playoff anyway — if the pitching holds up.
Hammel doesn’t have the name recognition or Q rating that helps influence the All-Star voting, but he’s been extremely reliable and effective in this environment, the type of player the Cubs can’t afford to lose now.
Hammel began the day at 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA and 104 strikeouts against 18 walks in 102 2/3 innings. He made it a priority to return to Chicago after last summer’s Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade with Oakland, agreeing to a deal that guaranteed two years and $20 million with a club option for 2017.
Overshadowed by sign-and-flip rumors — and higher-profile teammates — Hammel had quietly put together two half-seasons in a Cub uniform that look like top-of-the-rotation stuff: 13-9, 2.94 ERA, 208 strikeouts against 41 walks through 211-plus innings.
Before Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals — which featured All-Star snub Jake Arrieta and Triple-A Iowa call-up Dallas Beeler — manager Joe Maddon talked about the hunt for pitching.
“I know we’re always on the lookout to improve that,” Maddon said. “Absolutely, it could make a difference. There’s no question it could make a difference. But I don’t anticipate that happening, so I work from the premise that it’s going to look like this.”
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The Cubs understood they needed more pitching even before No. 5 starter Tsuyoshi Wada went on the disabled list last month. They already gave a Busch Stadium start to Donn Roach. They grabbed Richard from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a cash deal last week, taking advantage of a clause in his minor-league contract and getting him out of Triple-A.
Richard beat the Miami Marlins in his Fourth of July start, but in an emergency situation the lefty gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks in three innings against the Cardinals.
“Everybody needs more pitching,” Maddon said. “It’s something you’re always seeking. (But with) starting pitching, (it’s) really hard to get those six, seven-plus guys that you actually like.
“Listen, I’m not going to worry about it yet. We’ll find out exactly what’s going on with ‘Hammer,’ then we’ll take it from there.”
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The Cubs have Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Arrieta lined up for the White Sox this weekend at Wrigley Field before scattering for the All-Star break.
Ideally, the Cubs would probably like Hendricks as their fifth starter, not the No. 3 guy in a playoff push, which seems more credible after splitting this series with the Cardinals.
“I don’t think we needed to prove it to ourselves,” Hammel said. “We already believed that. Four games in three days against a No. 1 team — we played them toe-to-toe the whole way. We should have won tonight. They kind of stole one there at the end.”