SARASOTA, Fla.-- Jason Hammel tossed two scoreless innings Friday in his first spring start against the Pirates, striking out two, and said afterwards it was nice pitching with two good knees.
"I made a goal for me in the offseason to be able to come out and pitch without a brace," said Hammel, who had a right knee injury -- and surgery -- that hampered him nearly all of last season. "So, check that one off the list.
"I can feel my lower half, it's not more of just trying to build momentum to get towards the plate because I didn't have the backside push. I felt outstanding."
Hammel, who is a strong candidate to be the team's Opening Day starter, ended up with 39 pitches, 27 strikes, and he got ahead 0-2 on five of the seven batters he faced.
"That was my goal," Hammel said of having good command early. "I told [catcher Matt Wieters] lots of fastballs and then with the lefties we were going to work changeup and curveballs, things like that. The only scuffle I can say was probably the four-seamer. I wasn't quite on top like I should be. But good sinker and everything else was pretty much right where it should be."
Hammel was also encouraged with the offense, namely watching second baseman Brian Roberts lead off the game with a solo homer, his first home run of any kind since April 13, 2011.
"It's good to see him back," Hammel said of Roberts, who hasn't played a full season since 2009.
"It's very frustrating for a guy who wants to be out there and can't be out there. I've been through that. He was [sidelined] for a much longer time, I don't know how he got through that, but good to see him out there for sure."