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Jason Hammel's outing not as bad as it looked against Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES -- Don't be fooled by Chicago Cubs starter Jason Hammel's final pitching line or the final score of the game Friday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yes, the Cubs lost 4-1 while Hammel pitched into only the sixth inning -- without getting an out -- but his stuff was very good. In fact, for five innings he was matching all-world lefty Clayton Kershaw pitch for pitch.

"That's the best I've seen him in at least a month," catcher Miguel Montero said after the game.

Montero couldn't handle a couple of sliders in the dirt in the sixth and then threw a ball wide of third, allowing the winning run to score as the Cubs fell apart -- but there were enough positive signs in Hammel's outing to be encouraged.

"Couple walks hurt me in the sixth," Hammel said.

There's no sugarcoating the walks. Hammel averaged 1.05 per game in the first half, now it's 1.75 after he issued three free passes in five innings Friday. It's a small difference, but it's enough to torpedo a good effort. Yet if Montero makes a throw to third base to nail Chase Utley, the whole game might be different.

"It had the feelings of a good pitcher's duel," Hammel said. "I was the first one to blink. The sixth inning cost us."

But back to the original premise. Hammel's stuff looked good for much of his outing. He struck out five by setting hitters up with his fastball, then using mostly his slider to put them away -- until his one bad inning.

So that's where we are with an important piece to the Cubs puzzle. Hammel hit rock bottom several starts ago as he worked his way back from an injury, and now he's climbing the ladder again. He gave five good innings; next time he needs to make it six or seven.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel real good."