Bethlehem Press

Friday, September 20, 2019
Cheryl Pursell/Lehigh Valley IronPigs Copyright - c2018@cherylpursell Cheryl Pursell/Lehigh Valley IronPigs Copyright - c2018@cherylpursell

Hammer time doesn’t last long in Valley

Thursday, May 30, 2019 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

One thing after another has come up for J.D. Hammer in his baseball career and he’s conquered them all.

First, he envisioned himself being a major league shortstop, but the coaches at Navarro Community College in Texas didn’t see enough offensive skills to keep him on the team. His choices were to pitch or redshirt; he learned to pitch.

After junior college, Hammer transferred to Marshall University and wound up showing enough pitching skill that the Rockies took a chance on him in the 24th round of the 2016 Draft. Playing pro ball that summer, Hammer ran into another hurdle. He noticed that he was having trouble seeing the catcher’s signs. An eye exam revealed that he needed corrective lenses and he opted for contacts. That didn’t work either. The contacts bothered his eyes, so he attempted to pitch without them, but now could barely make out any signs the catcher was giving him. The only option were glasses and Hammer decided to go with the Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn look from the movie Major League.

In July of 2017, Hammer was dealt to the Phillies in the trade that sent Pat Neshek to the Rockies. The following season, Hammer dealt with injuries that limited him to just 12 minor league appearances. Hammer, who was excited at being dealt to the Phillies because he viewed it as a sign of being valued by the organization, learned a big lesson through the injuries.

“Last year was not an ideal year, but it taught me a lot,” said the 23-year old recently. “I went into the offseason taking better care of my body, understanding what I needed to do to be healthy. I have to prepare my body the right way.”

Hammer also realized that he couldn’t just depend on throwing a mid-to-upper 90s fastball once he hit Double-A ball where he opened the 2019 season. He already threw a change-up, but added a slider to his arsenal and worked hard on developing the pitch this spring.

“I worked real hard on that, so I could throw offspeed when I’m behind in counts,” said Hammer of developing the slider. “I feel like it was a big jump for me. I’ve always been able to throw the fastball, but I’m becoming more of a pitcher.”

His development not only paid off with an assignment to Reading, but after just 13 appearances with the Fightins this season, he was bumped up to Lehigh Valley. Unfortunately for IronPigs fans, he wasn’t in town long, pitching just one time and throwing two perfect innings. Ironically, Hammer would get the call to the majors to replace Neshek, the guy he was initially dealt to the Phillies for in the trade with Colorado. Neshek had resigned with the Phillies after the 2017 season and Hammer was now replacing him in the Phillies bullpen.

In his MLB debut, Hammer faced a good selection of major leaguers in Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas and put them all down in order, striking out Moustakas to end the inning. With Neshek out indefinitely and the Phillies bullpen needing some help, Hammer could wind up sticking around for a while in Philadelphia. After all, he’s already spent as much time in the majors as he did at Triple-A.

COAST-TO-COAST AND BACK AGAIN... Aaron Altherr was claimed on waivers by San Francisco. Then, the Giants decided to send him to the minors, but had to put him on waivers in order to send him down. Just as the move didn’t work for the Phillies, it didn’t work for the Giants when the Mets claimed him and added him to the roster Friday night. In his first swing as a Met, Altherr homered in a pinch-hitting performance snapping an 0-for-26 skid at the plate with the Phillies and Giants.

FOOT IN HIS MOUTH?... IronPigs manager Gary Jones told the media recently that Dylan Cozens had undergone foot surgery to remove bone spurs and was going to be lost for the season. Almost on cue, Cozens issued a simple four-word tweet: “Not out for season.” When asked about the tweet, Jones simply shrugged his shoulders and moved on to the next question.

EYES HAVE IT, PART TWO... Mitch Walding’s struggles came down to a relatively simple fix. As it turns out, Walding’s eyes weren’t tracking the ball all the way to the bat. Instead, he was moving them to where the point of contact would be and taking his eyes off the bat for a split second, which was just long enough to miss late movement on pitches. It took an astute viewing of lots of video to discover the issue, which Walding fixed and has started to reclaim his season.