SARASOTA, FLA. — It appears that right-hander Tommy Hunter will enter the Grapefruit League exhibition season with the inside track to win the Orioles’ closer role, but he said he isn’t going to change much about his bullpen routine.
“If that opportunity presents itself, I’m going to be me,” he said. “I’m going to try to get a little better from last year and see where that takes us.”
Hunter had a very solid year in middle and setup relief in 2013. He appeared in 68 games and finished 6-5 with a strong 2.81 ERA. He’ll have to deal with the challenge of pitching several days in a row, but he said he got a lot of good advice pitching in the same bullpen with Jim Johnson and Francisco Rodriguez.
“I got to talk to Jim for a couple years while I was here,’’ he said. “I got moved to the bullpen and they [the other relievers] gave me their helpful insight. And K-Rod was with us last year, too, and I played catch with him every day.
“The adjustment going from the rotation to the bullpen definitely was different. Pitching in general is challenging and changing roles sometimes is a little hard, too, and you’ve got to get used to it. You’ve got to figure out your routine. That’s basically what they taught me is just stay in a routine and let it eat.”
Hunter was developed as a starting pitcher and pitched primarily in that capacity until becoming a full-time reliever last year. He does not regret the change.
“I love the bullpen,’’ he said. “I’ll be honest. Just the adrenaline rush at the end of a baseball game. The starting thing, it progressively gets better. The further you get into the game, the more relaxed and the more into the game you get. Being in there for one inning at the end of the game, it’s already a pretty amped up situation. I like the pen. Pretty exciting. I get a chance to come back and not wait four days.”
Several Orioles players made a statement by filing into an introductory news conference for Nelson Cruz.
Eight of the Orioles’ core players — Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter — and hitting coach Jim Presley filed into the news conference just minutes before it started.
“Just kind of giving him a little bit of support,” Hardy said. “We all know him from playing against him or playing with him. I played with him in Milwaukee, half of this clubhouse played with him in Texas. He’s a good guy. He’s a friend of all of ours. So, it was just kind of a way, I guess, to show him that we want to welcome him here with open arms.”
The Orioles spent the past few days being asked about Cruz, who served a 50-game suspension last season as part of the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs scandal. They might have said more by attending the presser.
“It was a lot of position player that showed up,” Jones said. “He’s going to be formidable in our lineup and we want to show our support. The guys in there, we’ve been around a little bit and so we kind of understand what’s going on and we wanted him to feel welcome, and he’s welcome in this clubhouse.”
Orioles Manager Buck Showalter admitted he made sure the players knew when the news conference was.
“But it was their choice to be there,” Showalter said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. Our guys, they’re enthused about what could be. . . . I’m really proud of our guys. They had a lot of confidence.”
Cruz was a full participant in his first Orioles workout on Tuesday, taking part in defensive outfield drills and taking live batting practice thrown by coaches.
— Baltimore Sun