Notes: Hammel working hard
In search of first win as a starter, righty examines mechanics
CHICAGO -- Jason Hammel has been working hard in between starts to end a streak of futility once he takes the mound Tuesday night in Baltimore.
The young right-hander brings with him a 1-4 record and 7.43 ERA for the Devil Rays and will be making his eighth start since he was called up from Triple-A Durham on June 11. But in 16 overall starts as a Major Leaguer, Hammel has yet to win.
That lack of success has not dampened the team's hopes in eventually getting Hammel's on-field performance to match his talent level.
"We've been working with him for several outings now, and again, we really liked his abilities. His physical abilities are very good," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon of Hammel. "We're just trying to iron a few things out mechanically.
"A lot of times on this level here, if I were to see somebody struggle, I oftentimes believe it's what they're thinking. With him, I legitimately believe it's something he's not doing properly mechanically.
"So, we're trying to fix that a little bit, which could then cause him to think a little bit too much during the game," Maddon continued. "We're trying to have him separate the adjustments we're making on the side when going into the game."
Maddon added that Hammel understands the changes they are trying to make. The Tampa Bay manager also commented on how this switch won't exactly happen overnight.
"We like what he's doing, but we just have to be diligent with it, what actually occurs in the game," Maddon said. "He kind of tends to leap a little too soon or kind of jumps up ... and his back foot leaves the rubber too soon, which really prevents a consistent release point.
"We're just trying to stay grounded. It's like the equivalent of a hitter hitting with his back foot off the ground all the time."
The ultimate Ray: With Carl Crawford's first-inning strikeout against Jose Contreras on Monday, the left fielder tied Aubrey Huff for the most games played in Tampa Bay history at 799. Crawford entered Monday with the fourth-highest August average in baseball at .402, but also takes pride in his Tampa longevity.
"It means you've been around for a while and able to maintain a certain kind of level of play, to be able to be out there and stay healthy," Crawford said. "So, it's a good thing."
Crawford leads the Devil Rays with a .312 average and 40 stolen bases this season -- to go with his 10 home runs, 30 doubles and 67 RBIs. And with Crawford being signed through 2008, along with club options for 2009 and 2010, he should be able to spearhead this Tampa Bay offense for many years to come.
"Carl is obviously the face of the franchise right now, and it's fitting that he's able to do that," said Maddon of Crawford tying the games-played record. "Carl's going to play many more years. It's just another milestone and one of many that he's going to be able to surpass throughout his career."
The waiting game: Maddon wasn't expecting updated information on outfielder Rocco Baldelli's physical condition for another two or three days. Baldelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain on May 17 and had to shut down his rehab recently due to soreness.
Baldelli has a .204 average with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 35 games this season.
"He's still going through all the testing with our doctors, which I'm not certain about," Maddon said. "So, we'll know more within a day or two."
Familiar with K's: This year's Rays squad is hardly foreign to the strikeout.
On offense, Rays hitters added 13 strikeouts Sunday to bring their Major League-leading total to 1,026 in 130 games. If they continue at their current pace, they will surpass the American League record set by the 1999 Tigers, who whiffed 1,268 times, but catching the 2001 Brewers might be out of reach. The 2001 Brewers hold the Major League record for strikeouts in a season, with 1,399. Meanwhile, the Rays' club record of 1,116 should easily fall this season.
B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Delmon Young already have struck out 100 times each this season and Crawford is close, with 97.
On the other side of the ball, Rays pitchers lead the American League in strikeouts with 943 and could break the team record of 1,167 set by the 2001 Rays staff.
Scott Kazmir and James Shields, who have 351 strikeouts between them, have provided a major boost to the staff's league-leading total. Ironically, the Rays rank last in the American League in ERA. If they finish first in strikeouts and last in ERA, they will become the first team to do so.
Comeback candidates: The Rays have two excellent choices for American League Comeback Player of the Year in Pena and Al Reyes.
With his two home runs Sunday, Pena set a club record for homers in a single season by a first baseman with 30, surpassing Fred McGriff's 29 (1999). In addition, every home run the Rays first baseman hits extends his personal best; his previous high was 27 with the Tigers in 2004.
By hitting his 30th home run, Pena became the fifth player in the last 25 years to hit 30-plus home runs after being a non-roster invitee in Spring Training, joining Dave Kingman (35, A's, 1984), Albert Pujols (37, Cardinals, 2001), John Jaha (35, A's, 1999) and Jose Guillen (31, Reds and A's, 2003).
Reyes, who has been the team's closer all season and also was a non-roster invitee, collected his 20th save Sunday. At age 37 years, four months, he became the third oldest to record his first 20-save campaign.
This and that: The Rays' record in series finales this season is 23-19. ... Upton has four home runs in his last eight games. ... Scott Dohmann has now gone 15 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. ... The Rays are on pace to hit the second-most home runs in team history. They had 143 after Sunday; the team record of 190 was set in 2006.
Up next: The Rays will travel to Baltimore to play the first game of a three-game series against the Orioles in a 7:05 p.m. ET contest at Camden Yards. Hammel will start for the Rays and will be opposed by right-hander Daniel Cabrera.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Bill Chastain and Jeremy Smith contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.