Most batters that have faced Kale Hammer this season have at least one thing in common.
They’ve probably struck out against the Snohomish High School baseball team’s standout lefty starter.
Hammer has fanned an eye-popping 1.93 batters per inning over the first five starts of his junior campaign. His 51 total strikeouts are over two times more than his hits (nine) and walks allowed (13) combined.
And he’s been equally as good at preventing runs.
Hammer sports a dazzling 0.00 ERA through 26.1 innings of work.
So, what’s been the key for the Gonzaga University commit?
“The first thing that jumps out is just the velocity he has on the mound. … He’s probably sitting around 84 to 86 but bumps it up to 88, 89 mph at times with his fastball,” Snohomish coach Nick Hammons said. “Then, he’s got a lot of good feel for his curveball and his slider. … So, he’s able to mix speeds and keep guys off balance. He just throws a ton of strikes. He fills up the zone and he challenges guys. He’s really worked on his efficiency.
“The next thing is his stature,” added Hammons about his 6-foot-3, 215-pound ace. “He’s super physical, very durable and very strong. I think that’s how he’s able to throw with such velocity. He’s just so conditioned being a three-sport athlete out there.”
The slider — a new pitch in Hammer’s repertoire this season — has become a favorite.
“It’s like the pitch was made for me kind of,” Hammer said. “It just came natural. It didn’t take too long to develop. It’s kind of like it’s been there along. I wish I started throwing it sooner.”
The lefty also throws a curveball and mixes in a few changeups.
“You’ll see the dominant guys at the high school level be able to have two pitches they can throw for strikes,” Hammons said. “You go to the college level and you see the best guys there have three pitches they can throw for strikes. … Kale has three pitches he can throw for strikes. He’s at a college level competing in high school. You can imagine that’s (a factor) in the success he’s having right now.”
Hammer, who threw for 1,308 yards and 12 touchdowns as the quarterback for Snohomish’s football team last fall, didn’t need much time to show what he was capable of this spring.
He tossed four scoreless innings and allowed only one hit while leading the Panthers to a 3-1 win over Jackson in their season opener. His five strikeouts were a season low, but it came against a lineup that entered Wednesday averaging 7.3 runs per game. It’s also just one of two losses the perennial Wesco 4A power Timberwolves have suffered this season.
“He went out and just was pumping strikes and challenging guys,” Hammons said. “It just creates an attitude on our team when he’s attacking like that. Guys are like, ‘Wow. Kale is really leading us right now and we’re ready to go. We’re ready to challenge this team.’ So, he really set the tone and got guys to rally behind him in that game.”
Hammer followed that outing with 11 strikeouts in six innings against Shorewood and then 10 over 5.1 innings against three-time defending Wesco 3A North champion Arlington.
“That was a pretty dang good start against Jackson,” Hammons said, “but then when he was able to do it against Arlington, I (could see) that Kale has really spent a lot of time this offseason working on the things that myself and our pitching coach, Aaron West, had talked about, which is becoming more physically fit and more in shape … working on his command, and his ability to throw strikes more consistently, and his ability to work faster on the mound.”
Hammer’s knack for sending batters back to their dugout without putting the ball in play was especially evident in a stellar outing against Stanwood on April 1. The first 17 outs he recorded came via strikeout before he induced a weak pop-up for the final out of the sixth inning. His final line: 6 innings and 17 strikeouts with just two hits, one walk and one unearned run allowed.
The 17 strikeouts in a game is tied for third all time in Snohomish program history and puts Hammer on a short list that features a handful of players who played baseball professionally. Only Jim Ollom and Steve Moyer (21) and Hammons’ brother, Jake Hammons (18), have bested that mark. Adam Eaton, Brandon Eagon and Cody McAllister also reached 17 strikeouts in a single game.
Ollom and Eaton each pitched in the big leagues. Moyer and McAllister pitched in the minors.
Hammer has pro baseball aspirations of his own and he hopes his future at Gonzaga, which he called his “dream school,” will help him achieve that goal.
The Bulldogs have a strong recent history of producing big-league pitchers, including Seattle Mariners starter Marco Gonzales and Cleveland Guardians reliever Eli Morgan.
But Hammer still has plenty of high school baseball left before he graduates in 2023 and heads to Gonzaga. And his goal for this season doesn’t center around any individual accolades.
“State championship. That’s it,” he said.
If the Panthers (10-3) are to reach that milestone, Hammer will certainly have played a big part in it.
“Kale is a program-changer,” Hammons said. “He comes in and his ability to just set the tone from the start has created so much internal competition in our program that’s its taken everyone’s abilities to the next level because Kale has that ability at the Division I level already. Everyone has gotten better from being around him.”