It’s like the high school kid who tries desperately to fit in with the cool crowd. He asks his barber for a hard part and ends up with something more akin to a butt-cut. He asks his mom for fly kicks and she brings home Chef Curry lows. Eventually he gives in to the crushing weight of inevitability and goes back to being himself. But, like, hopefully a cooler version of himself.
All Jason Hammel wanted was to be like his buddy Jake. The Cy Young winner had a lethal repertoire of pitches, a fitness model’s build, and his facial fleece was on fleek. If only he could be like Arrieta, Hammel (probably) reasoned, he too could hang with the popular crowd.
So he grew a tangle of whiskers and got tangled up in a Pilates reformer. And it worked…for a while. Hammel was cruising along through much of the first half, though there was a pervasive sense of at-arm’s-length acceptance. Fans were digging this suave new version of the pitcher they’d gotten to know, but they just kept waiting for him to slip back into his nerdery in the second half.
When Arrieta’s would-be doppelgänger imploded in Queens a couple starts back, it seemed the decline was underway. And when Hammel had his last pre-break outing cut short by cramping, it was widely assumed that he would now cramp the clique’s style.
Desperate for anything that would keep him in good stead, the struggling starter took a drastic tack and began to experiment with PCP. Rather than getting wet, though, this was about getting greasy. Yes, the Cubs team doctor gave Hammel a Potato Chip Prescription, positing that the potassium and salt would keep the pitcher’s taxed muscles from seizing up during the game.
“Any excuse I could have to eat potato chips, I did,” Hammel explained after throwing 81 cramp-free pitches against the Rangers Saturday afternoon.
“(The doctor) said potato chips because they’ve got a lot of potassium and obviously the sea salt helps retain water. So I focused on that over the break. I ate a lot of potato chips. Think it turned out pretty well.”
After all that talk in the offseason about improved fitness, Hammel stood wolfing down little bags of Utz brand sea salt and vinegar chips between innings. You wonder if there wasn’t an ancillary benefit to the dietary change too. Crisco, Bartol, Vagisil, chip grease; every one of ’em’ll give you another two to three inches of drop on your curveball. But I’m sure Hammel wasn’t doctoring the ball, as evidenced by the stains on the seat of his pants from wiping his paws before returning to the mound.
Crumbs flying from his beard, the big righty vexed his opponents over the course of six innings. He struck out seven and allowed only a single run on three hits and a walk to bring his season ERA to 3.34 and further ingratiate himself to those who questioned his street cred. Chip, chip, hooray, amirite?
Who knows whether Hammel will need to keep getting the ‘scrip refilled or whether he’ll eventually need up the dosage or find a bolder flavor to get his fix, but I’m digging the early returns. That’ll go double if his junk food predilections lead to a championchip.