|J.D. Hammer, image- Jay Floyd|
An expressionless stare from the seated reliever began to wear a hole in the floor following J.D. Hammer’s most recent outing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Teammates did not speak to him. It was processing time. It was how he will improve.
Hammer, one of the Phillies’ prospects that has taken the most strides this season, is back in the Triple-A International League after a recent trade to acquire pitcher Mike Morin left Hammer without a spot on the big league roster.
In nearly two months with the Phils, Hammer appeared in 20 games. He posted a 1-0 record with a 3.79 ERA, a .217 batting average against while striking out 13 and walking 12 in 19 innings. The strike out rate and walk rate aren’t gleaming and will need to improve if Hammer is to succeed at the top level of the sport.
A swift mover this year, the 25-year-old opened his 2019 campaign with Double-A Reading, where he really delivered in relief for the Fightins Phils. In 13 contests, Hammer touted a 1-0 record with two saves, a 1.77 ERA and an 11.5 K/9 mark.
Hammer was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in May. There, he made one appearance, tossing two scoreless frames, before the Phillies called him up.
“The guy’s had a hell of a year so far,” said IronPigs manager Gary Jones in a proud, fatherly tone. “He started in Double-A, got to the big leagues and now he’s back with us working on some things, trying to get some things right, iron things out.”
The right-handed Hammer pitched an inning in his latest appearance against Pawtucket on Tuesday, surrendering two earned runs on three hits, including a homer to Red Sox prospect Josh Ockimey, a Philadelphia native. Within just a handful of minutes after the end of the game, Hammer had already reviewed video of his outing to look at pitch selection and locations. He then sat at his locker reflecting on what he had seen and the results. It was a zone he needed to enter in order to let the lessons sink in and to allow himself to grow.
Since his return to Allentown, Hammer added four more appearances to his season and has tallied a 9.00 ERA with the ‘Pigs.
“It's definitely been an up and down season,” Hammer stated. “Right now I'm working through some stuff. I feel like I'm making good pitches and throwing lots of strikes. It's baseball, so it's tough. I'm a competitor. I never go out there and try to lose, so it's frustrating giving up runs. It's as simple as I've got to go back out and compete tomorrow.”
Originally drafted in the 24th round by Colorado in 2016, Hammer was acquired by the Phillies in a deal that sent reliever Pat Neshek to the Rockies in 2017. Neshek is now among the veterans that Hammer cites as having been a valuable source of information during his tenure in the majors and around the big club during spring training.
“He's awesome,” Hammer said of the former All-Star. “He's had a ton of years in the big leagues and he knows how to pitch and he's a great guy to be around and not only that, he's personable and he's a normal guy and I enjoy being around all those guys and, hopefully, I'll be up there again soon.”
Mainly a fastball-slider guy, Hammer also features a change up in his arsenal that he cites is something he doesn’t throw as often as he might like. The slider, though, is his go-to pitch. Pitching coach Steve Schrenk says the offering has shown improvements and is Hammer’s primary weapon, though an area of focus for the six-foot-three 215 pounder will be his precision.
“He’s doing well,” Schrenk said with confidence. “He’s been using his fastball. Fastball command was something he needed to work on before he went up to Philly and he’s been doing a good job with that.”
While he waits for the next opportunity to pitch in the majors, Hammer is using feedback from Phillies developmental personnel to guide his work. The main goal is getting ahead of hitters and staying in attack mode, according to the Marshall product.
Those coaches in charge of his development are confident that the future remains bright for Hammer. Jones, his skipper, is most assured of all.
"He’ll get back to the big leagues. He’ll probably have a long career at the major league level."