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Jason Hammel focusing on hitters, not Yankees’ Tanaka

Updated: May 17, 2014 6:43AM



NEW YORK — Through his first two starts, Jason Hammel has done more than anyone could have reasonably expected when he signed that one-year, $6 million deal just before spring training started.

At 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA, he has half the Cubs’ victories and is second only to Jeff Samardzija in ERA (among starters) and innings per start.

Not bad for a guy who had his entire offseason held up by the celebrity free-agent pitcher he’ll face at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

“Every free agent was [in a holding pattern],” said Hammel, who talked to the Cubs early in the offseason and then had to wait until the Yankees won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes in late January to know the Cubs still had the means and desire to sign him.

“Tanaka was basically the last stone to break the levee. Obviously, I knew about him a lot in the offseason, but it was really just a waiting game because he was the biggest part of the market. … It was a strange offseason for free agents.”

Hammel is well aware that the Cubs saw Tanaka as a potentially major part of their rebuilding plans, worth a six-year, $120 million offer.

Hammel’s place in the Cubs’ plans is more temporary, this year’s version of Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman. He’s the upside guy on a one-year contract likely to get traded for prospects.

As far as he’s concerned, the whole thing is just part of the business of baseball.

“The Cubs were the first team to come to me with a legitimate offer, so I was excited that they were interested,” said Hammel, who looks strong and healthy after battling knee and forearm injuries the last two seasons.

“I understood they were going to be looking at other guys, too, at the same time. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. I figured that they had prepared to maybe go for Tanaka, but if it didn’t work out, they had to have a Plan B or Plan C. It is what it is.”

Don’t expect him to take any personal feelings to the mound against Tanaka.

The former Baltimore Oriole, who lost a decisive Game  5 at Yankee Stadium in the 2012 playoffs despite pitching well, hasn’t lost to the Yankees in three starts since. And beating them again is the only thing on his mind.

“It’s great to go in and beat the Yankees. That’s everybody’s game plan,” he said. “You want to beat the Yankees because they represent winning. That’s what they do. I’m going to worry about what their lineup is doing more than what their pitcher might do to us.”



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