Hammel kicks off trip

Hammel coming into his own this season

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jason Hammel will make his fifth start of the season for the Rays to kick off the team's nine-game road trip that begins with three games in Baltimore against the Orioles.

Hammel, who defeated Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay on Wednesday at the Disney Sports Complex, seems to be coming into his own.

"In a sense, that was more of my attitude when I came in during Spring Training," Hammel said. "I felt like I belonged. I've been able to minimize damage this year. When I've needed to make a pitch, I've been doing it. Probably confidence is a big part of that."

Simplifying things also has helped Hammel. In the past, the right-hander said he had too many thoughts rattling around in his head. Talking to assistant pitching coach Brian Anderson has helped Hammel modify his approach on the mound.

"Just think of down in the strike zone and you can't really fail," Hammel said.

Pitches that are down might become balls, but they don't become home runs near as often as the pitches that are up. Hammel has had success locating his two-seam fastball down in the strike zone. The pitch -- which runs away from left-handers -- has coaxed a lot of ground balls this season. And ground balls are good.

The Rays will have to make a decision about which pitcher stays in the starting rotation once Scott Kazmir returns from the disabled list next weekend. Hammel could be the odd man out, but he said he tries not to think about it.

"As long as I continue to do what I do, I'll have a job somewhere," Hammel said. "I want to be a part of this, [and] this is awesome. But I'm not thinking about that, I'm thinking about keeping the ball down."

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Jason Hammel (2-1, 4.32 ERA)
Hammel is 0-3 with a 7.18 ERA in five career starts against the Orioles.

BAL: Garrett Olson (1-3, 7.79 ERA in 2007)
The Orioles will likely promote Olson from Triple-A Norfolk to fill the rotation slot vacated by Adam Loewen. Baltimore stopped Olson's latest Triple-A start at 41 pitches just to prepare him for the possibility. Olson struggled in that abbreviated outing, but before that, he had logged a 1-1 record and a 1.61 ERA through his first four starts.

Tidbits
Sunday's sweep against the Red Sox was the first time the Rays have completed back-to-back sweeps of opponents since they swept three consecutive sets against the Rockies, Padres and Diamondbacks June 11-20, 2004, as part of Tampa Bay's club-record 12-game winning streak. The Rays swept three from the Blue Jays playing at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex earlier this week. ... Al Reyes [right shoulder impingement] pitched one inning for Class A Vero Beach on Saturday night and looked sharp. He is scheduled to pitch another inning for Vero Beach on Monday night. ... Willy Aybar [left hamstring strain] said he expects to start playing in games in a week. ... Cliff Floyd [right knee surgery] is expected to begin playing in some games later this week. ... Sunday's game against the Red Sox ended a stretch that saw the Rays play 17 of 19 games at home (three of the home games were played in Orlando). Tuesday begins a stretch that will see the team play 15 of its next 22 away from Tropicana Field.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 3-1, 5.28) at Orioles (TBD), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Rays (Matt Garza, 0-0, 7.62) at Orioles (TBD), 12:35 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 2-2, 3.86) at Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 1-2, 4.08), 7:05 p.m. ET

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.