By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The storylines keep getting better for the Cubs, who ran their record to 8-1 on Thursday evening with an 8-1 win against the Reds. Right-hander Jason Hammel’s first win of 2016 was a sweet one, as he looked to re-establish himself and resurrect his body and mind after a difficult second half in 2015.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Best Rain Friday Night
Hammel as pushed hard as he ever had in the offseason, making Chicago’s East Bank club his base. He worked six or seven days a week in grueling strength and endurance training sessions.
“He really spent a lot of time this past winter (getting better).” manager Joe Maddon said.
“I know that he sought advice even outside the (team) during the course of the offseason. He did it with our consent and communication between him and us. I am always about listening to different folks too. He sought advice outside, which meshed a lot with what he had already heard. Sometimes you just have to hear it from someplace else. To his credit, look what he has done to his body alone. He is very committed to the season and to his career.”
The 2015 season began to fall apart for Hammel after he injured a calf muscle during a July start. After registering a 2.86 ERA before the All-Star break, he had a 5.10 ERA in the second half, averaging fewer than five innings per start in that ugly stretch.
At times it appeared Hammel had lost confidence in his stuff. Beyond that, it was obvious Maddon had the quickest hook for him of any rotation starter. The roof caved in for good on Hammel in Game 4 of the NLCS. He was torched for five runs in 1 1/3 innings, taking the loss in the final game of a sweep by the Mets.READ MORE: Getting Hosed: A Look At The Universe Of Chicago Water, And Its Sometimes-Sordid History, This Earth Day
Physical improvement and a rebuilding of his baseball psyche was done hand and hand. Hammel’s been strong to start 2016, allowing just one run on eight hits in 12 innings across two starts.
“That was a look-in-the-mirror type moment,” Hammel said of his Game 4 loss to the Mets. “I had to find out and figure out what was inside me. I dedicated myself to making some changes this offseason. It was important. I felt bad, the way things panned out last year. That was last year. I was able to focus on some good things this year and simplify as much as I could. So far it has translated.”
On Thursday, Hammel tossed six scoreless innings against the Reds to pick up his first win of the season. He also drove in a run with an RBI double.
Throughout his career, Hammel has often gotten off to good starts, posting a 17-5 record and 2.75 ERA in April. The key is to perform at such a high level all season long.
“I made some changes, and I am still trying to adjust to my new delivery,” Hammel said. “Overall, I think things have translated pretty well. I am not to excited with the walks. I have been walking too many guys (seven in 12 innings). Like I said before, if you get some runs to work with, you are allowed to make some mistakes.”
The Cubs’ 8-1 mark matches the best start in franchise history. Chicago last accomplish the feat en route to an 11-1 start in 1969. The Cubs have now won 16 of their past 17 regular-season games, dating back to last September. That last time they did that was from a stretch spanning from the end of the 1968 season to the start of the 1969 season.MORE NEWS: Shuttered By Pandemic Last Summer, Guthrie's Tavern In Wrigleyville Has New Owner And Will Be Reopening
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.