No question Hunter cares.
As goofy as he can be off the field, he’s the opposite on it, a fierce competitor who, like most young pitchers, sometimes can be his worst enemy.
“Pretty much he needs to know he is good enough to pitch here. Tommy’s got plenty of enough stuff,” Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair said. “Sometimes, I don’t know if he realizes it or not. And he tries to throw it 100 [mph] instead of throwing it 94 [mph] and down. But he’s done good.”
Hunter came to the Orioles along with Chris Davis in the July 2011 deadline deal with the Texas Rangers for reliever Koji Uehara.
The Orioles loved his arm, his experience — he started a World Series game for the Rangers in 2010 at age 24 — and his personality. Oh, how they loved infusing his quick-witted, nothing-is-sacred persona into a reserved clubhouse two years ago.
Case in point: On Sunday morning, Hunter donned a Team Mexico baseball cap and was waiting mischievously for the arrival of Mexico native and Orioles reliever Luis Ayala, who had strutted about when Mexico beat the United States earlier this week in the World Baseball Classic.
But on Saturday night Mexico was eliminated from the tournament, and Hunter was having some fun at his teammate’s expense Sunday morning. He walked up to native Mexican Miguel Gonzalez, embraced him and placed Gonzalez’s head on his shoulder, telling Gonzalez it was okay to weep. Gonzalez instead let out a hearty laugh.
“I think we all saw that the first day he got here. We just didn’t have — at that time — a lot of personality, and Tommy provides that daily. To say the least,” Adair said. “He’s been here since August 2011 and he’s now one of our guys.”
He could, theoretically, be someone else’s by the end of spring.
Hunter, who turns 27 in July, does not have minor league options remaining, meaning if he does not make the team out of spring he must be placed on waivers before the Orioles can send him to Class AAA Norfolk.
Hunter probably won’t get through waivers without being claimed, especially with the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates, among others, on the prowl for pitching.
Technically, Hunter is in contention for a rotation spot with the Orioles, but realistically several starters would have to be injured for him to crack the top five. So that really leaves two possibilities this April: He’ll either be in the Orioles’ bullpen or be dealt to another team.
“It’s a no-lose situation for him, except he wouldn’t be part of our team,” said Manager Buck Showalter, who was told that Hunter stressed his interest in remaining an Oriole. “I like when people like what’s going on here. It’s no reflection of where he has been. It’s just about the present, where he is now.”
Hunter made 20 starts for the Orioles in 2012, going 4-8 with a 5.71 ERA. He gave up 30 homers in 1162
3 innings as a starter, leading to his demotion, both to the bullpen and the minors.
“Nobody wants to lose a job or get demoted. Nobody likes to do that,” Hunter said. “But you deal with it and you move on and you try to succeed at the role you are given.”
As a reliever, he was 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA in 13 games, yielding two homers.
Hunter has been a starter for most of his career, and says he’ll always see himself in that role. But his priority is making the Orioles and helping them return to the playoffs, no matter the role.
“I’m still going to come to the baseball field every day,” said Hunter, who has allowed three runs on seven hits in 52
3 relief innings this spring. “It is what it is. I don’t really have any preference anymore.”
— Baltimore Sun