Key to Contention: The Return of Jason Hammel

Can't you just imagine Jason Hammel pitching for the Orioles on a crisp October afternoon?

Jason Hammel first pitched for the Baltimore Orioles on April 8, 2012. And while it was "only" against the Minnesota Twins, he got off on the right foot with his new team, pitching eight innings of one-run ball. And that was only the beginning, as he continued to pitch his way into our hearts and took on the unlikely role of staff ace. His performance in the first half of the season was a big reason for the Orioles success.

But because the Orioles and their fans aren't allowed to have nice things (or maybe just because pitchers get hurt a lot), Hammel injured his knee on July 13th and had to come out of the game. In 18 starts before his injury, Hammel pitched to a 3.54 ERA/3.24 FIP. He averaged over six innings per start and had a lovely K/BB of 2.72.

It's been over a month since Hammel last pitched, and this week reports have begun to come out about his progress. From Dan Connolly on Wednesday:

Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel (right knee surgery) again participated in pitcher’s fielding practice on Wednesday, and if he feels fine, he likely will throw 25 to 35 pitches Friday in a simulated game at Camden Yards, pitching coach Rick Adair said.

Hammel is scheduled to throw one more simulated game early next week, in the 40- to 50-pitch range, and then will be re-evaluated.

If all goes well, the Orioles will have Hammel back for most of September. That won't give him many starts in the regular season, but if he can replicate or come close to replicating his first-half numbers, that would be a huge boost for the team. We certainly can't predict which Orioles pitcher currently in the rotation wouldn't be there if Hammel hadn't gotten hurt, here are some ugly number for you. Since July 13th:

Replace either one of those with even the poor man's version of 2012 Jason Hammel, and this team suddenly looks much, much better. So keep your fingers crossed that the rest of his rehab goes smoothly so that the Orioles have a better option for September and the, gulp, playoffs.

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