He might have the talent if he continues to improve at a rapid rate, but one thing is fairly clear: He's getting the right coaching.
Hammer's head coach at Cedar Rapids Prairie is Matt Thede, who was a catcher in the minor leagues for several years. And his special pitching coach is Mike Schwabe, who spent two years in the Major Leagues with the Detroit Tigers and now gives lessons at the GWE Sports Center in northeast Cedar Rapids.
Hammer put on a good show Friday night when he pitched a complete game and hit a two-run triple as Prairie defeated Ottumwa, 7-1, in the opening round of the Class 4A substate tournament at Prairie.
Thede coached Hammer on the field while Schwabe watched intently from behind the fence.
"It's kind of like watching my own kid out there," Schwabe said after the game. "It's the same thing."
Schwabe, 48, is from Fort Dodge originally. He played at Arizona State, coincidentally, and had a modest 2-4 record and 5.77 earned run average during his two-year stint with the Tigers and Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson in 1989 and 1990.
Schwabe invited Arizona State Coach Tim Esmay to a baseball camp at GWE this past December, which was great news for Hammer, a promising left-handed pitcher and hitter.
"That's my dream school," he said. "When I found out they were coming to town I had to do it."
Esmay was initially impressed with Hammer as a hitter at the GWE camp, but the ASU coach became even more interested after Schwabe taught Hammer how to throw a two-seam fastball with good movement during the camp.
"He threw four pitches and he had about seven inches of tail," Schwabe recalled. "Esmay was behind the catcher -- behind the screen -- and he goes, 'What was THAT?' after he threw it."
Esmay invited Hammer to visit Arizona State during spring break this March and gave him free tickets to an ASU home game. The Sun Devils are keeping an eye on Hammer, and Hammer is definitely interested in the Sun Devils.
Hammer, a junior, has been working with Schwabe ever since that camp in December. He said Friday that Schwabe has helped him "immensely" as a pitcher, and he gives Schwabe a great deal of credit for the success he's having this year.
Hammer said he's improved tremendously since last season. "Probably 10 times better," he said. "I'm a whole different pitcher."
Hammer (7-1) is throwing a nasty two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, two different curveballs and an outstanding changeup. "His changeup is a Division I-type changeup right now," said Schwabe.
Batters lunge at Hammer's changeup, usually swinging at nothing but air as the ball disappears into the catcher's mitt. "Last year I didn't have much confidence in my changeup, and now it's probably the best pitch that I have," he said.
Ottumwa (19-19) collected seven hits off Hammer and took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning. "I wasn't very happy with how I did tonight," he said. "I had a great defense behind me."
Prairie (23-17) grabbed control by scoring six runs in the bottom of the third inning for a 6-1 advantage. Ty Mougin socked an RBI double and Tyler Votroubek had an RBI single, then Hammer lined his two-run triple to left.
"We got a lot of key hits in that third inning," said Thede.
Once Hammer had a 6-1 lead, he appeared to relax and pitched four straight shutout innings to end the game. Schwabe, standing nearby, liked what he saw from his pupil.
"I was happy to find a kid who wanted to learn," Schwabe remarked. "He was a sponge whenever we worked together."
Prairie will face Muscatine in the second round of the substate tournament Monday night at Muscatine. The winner will play Linn-Mar Wednesday night at Linn-Mar for the substate title.
"I like our chances," said Thede. "I like our team right now."
Griffiths, cf, 4 0 2 0, Keck, p/cf, 4 0 2 0, Miller, cr, 0 0 0 0, Schulz, ss, 4 1 0 0, McIntosh, c, 3 0 0 0, Bramschreiber, cr, 0 0 0 0, Collins, 1b, 3 0 1 0, Ollom, 3b, 3 0 0 0, Mooney, dh/p, 3 0 0 0, Stuchel, rf, 0 0 0 0, Baird, lf, 3 0 1 0, Johns, 2b, 2 0 1 0. Totals 29 1 7 0.
Velvick, cf, 4 1 1 0, Mougin, ss, 2 1 1 2, Carlson, 2b, 2 1 0 0, Butz, 3b, 2 1 1 0, Votroubek, 1b, 3 1 1 1, Hammer, p, 3 1 1 2, Alberts, lf, 3 0 1 1, Pond, c, 3 0 0 0, Davison, rf, 3 1 1 0. Totals 25 7 7 6.
Ottumwa 001 000 0 - 1 7 1
Prairie 006 100 x - 7 7 2
Keck, Mooney (3) and McIntosh; Hammer and Pond. W - Hammer (7-1). L - Keck (5-5). 2B - Mougin. 3B - Velvick, Hammer. SB - Carlson.
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