MILWAUKEE — For the second time in two days, the Phillies have added a right-handed power arm to their bullpen.
After a sleepless night, a drive from Allentown to Philadelphia, a flight from Philadelphia to Chicago and another car ride from Chicago to Milwaukee, J.D. Hammer arrived in the clubhouse at Miller Field in time for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Brewers.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” the elated 24-year-old pitcher said. “I haven’t been able to sleep for the last 24 hours. It’s just a dream come true. It’s hard to put into words how I feel right now.”
Hammer was called up when the Phillies placed Pat Neshek on the injured list. The veteran right-hander felt pain in his right shoulder while playing catch on Friday and is back in Philadelphia for an exam. Hammer joins a bullpen that got a shot in the arm Friday night with the addition of Vince Velasquez to the group. Velasquez pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts and hit 97 mph on the gun in Friday night’s 6-4 win (see story).
Interestingly, the Phillies acquired Hammer in the trade that sent Neshek to the Colorado Rockies in July 2017. Neshek re-signed with the Phillies the following winter.
Hammer arrived in the Phillies organization with the reputation of throwing a big fastball. The Phils brought him to big-league camp for a look in the spring of 2018, but he never pitched because of an elbow strain. He ended up pitching in just 12 games last season, all in the low minors.
Over time, Hammer got healthy and he worked himself into better shape over the winter. He was not invited to big-league camp this spring but worked his way through minor-league camp and an assignment at Double A Reading to a promotion to Triple A just this week. Now, he's in the big leagues after just one appearance in Triple A.
“I think the injury last year was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It taught me that I needed to take better care of my body and how to prepare and not just go out there and throw.”
Hammer pitched 20 1/3 innings at Double A and gave up 17 hits and four earned runs. He struck out 26 and walked four. In one game at Triple A, he pitched two perfect innings and struck out three.
The Phillies saw enough to give him a look. To make room for Hammer on the 40-man roster, the club transferred reliever David Robertson to the 60-day IL. That transaction is back-dated so Robertson can come off the IL on June 14. He is still down with an elbow strain.
Hammer’s best pitch is a fastball that tops at 96 mph. He throws an improved slider and changeup.
“I’ve been really honing my slider this year,” he said. “The pitching coaches did a really good job of working with me on that and getting it to where I need to be. I feel like it’s an effective pitch for me and I have that changeup in my back pocket.
“I think that a lot of the analytics and stuff that we went over this year helped a lot. I feel like we really dug deep into information on hitters, how to attack guys, and what their weaknesses are. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of information from the coaching staff and the analytics people to give us an advantage.”
John Dale Hammer is a colorful lad with long locks of hair and big, black-framed eyeglasses much like Rick (Wild Thing) Vaughn of the movie Major League. His journey to the majors did not include any time in the California Penal League, but he did face the uphill climb that goes with being a senior sign out of Marshall University and a 24th-round draft pick in 2016. Hammer’s signing bonus was just $1,000.
No problem, he’s happy to be here. And no matter how tired he was from a long day of travel, he looked like a big leaguer when he walked through the clubhouse door in a nice blue suit. His wife and dad made the trip in from Colorado for Saturday’s game. His mom couldn’t make the trip because she was attending his sister’s college graduation.
“It’s been a ride,” Hammer said of the journey that he hopes is just beginning. “I’ve worked hard and I’ve had a lot of people support me along the way. Coaches, trainers, everyone — I’ve had a lot of support. I couldn’t do it without them.”
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