SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) - Things have turned around in Baltimore for Jason Hammel.
A year ago, Hammel was barely known. Most fans didn't know who he was. The Baltimore Orioles had traded their most established pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie, in February to the Colorado Rockies for Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
The trade wasn't wildly popular with Orioles fans - nor with Guthrie. He took out newspaper ads to thank the fans for their support while Hammel, who had a 34-45 record in six seasons with Tampa Bay and Colorado, was the unknown.
It's much different now. Manager Buck Showalter can't imagine his Orioles without Hammel.
"I'm glad we got him. If I knew then what I know now, who knows what we'd given up for him?" Showalter said.
Last year, Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA despite missing nearly half the year after right knee surgery. Showalter thought so much of him that he started the first and fifth games of last year's Divisional Series against the New York Yankees.
It was a big year for Hammel, who debuted in Baltimore last April by taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and concluded by being the go-to guy for a surprise playoff team. In between, he had a complete game one-hitter against Atlanta and a painful right knee.
Hammel said he's happy with the progress Baltimore made last year, "although it wasn't good enough. It was a step in the right direction."
Several of Hammel's starts were truncated because of his bad knee and finally in mid-July, he agreed to arthroscopic surgery. He didn't pitch until September, pitched twice and then again was shut down - until the postseason.
Showalter appreciates his determination and work ethic.
"You love your chances of winning when he pitches. He's going to keep you in the game. Some nights, he can dominate," Showalter said.
Hammel said that his injured knee is better now.
"When I went home, it took probably a month before I could start doing stuff again confidently without the brace. I made it a goal that when I came down to spring training, I was going to be brace-free and off the mound without that big, bulky brace I was using last year. I was able to achieve that," Hammel said. "I feel great. I'm running around. My only question and concern was how I was going to do the first few days running around on spikes. It's done marvelous, so I'm happy with it."
Showalter likes his leadership ability, and at 30, it's taken a long time for Hammel to truly establish himself.
"I didn't get to where I was at the easiest way. I had to earn it all. I can lend some good advice now," Hammel said. "It definitely feels good for all that hard work to pay off. I know that I have leadership qualities. We have a bunch of good guys here to put on that mound every fifth day. I think I can lead them in the right direction."
On Apr. 2, the Orioles open their season at Tampa Bay. Hammel would enjoy being the Opening Day pitcher.
"Oh yeah. Why not? To me, it's just the first start of the season for me. Opening Day is always a great day," Hammel said.
"It's an honor. It shows you the manager's putting a lot of faith behind you - and a lot of trust behind you. They showed me that last year. If that's where they want me, that's fine."
NOTES: Baltimore RHP Darren O'Day, who signed a two-year extension for an option for 2015 earlier in the day was elated at the deal. "They gave me an opportunity and they kept running me out there last year, and I hope I did what they expected. And now maybe this is them saying they believe in me and they want to keep me around and be part of what's going on here, O'Day said. ... Orioles RHP Luis Ayala has declined an opportunity to play for the Mexican team in the World Baseball Classic. ... Baltimore INF Manny Machado missed camp for an additional physical exam.