With Jim Johnson being traded away to the Athletics in the off season, the Orioles needed to figure out who their closer was going to be for the upcoming season. They thought they found their man in Grant Balfour, but after failing his physical, the Orioles decided not to sign him. Over the duration of Spring Training, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette made the decision to make Tommy Hunter their closer.
Hunter has a solid fastball that reaches the upper 90’s in pitch speed. Unfortunately, he does not have too much command over his other pitches, especially his breaking ball, and he leaves the ball hanging over the center of the plate on many occasions. This leads to the opposing team getting on base with more rapidity than Showalter would like. Actually, Hunter has yet to record a “1,2,3 inning” this season.
Despite all of this, Hunter is currently tied for the highest amount of saves in the American League at ten total. Whether it is a crucial strikeout with the bases loaded or an acrobatic catch like the one Hunter made to end the game Wednesday night to beat the Rays, Hunter has gotten the job done all but once this season when Showalter called on him to end the game.
However, I think I speak for everyone when I say every O’s fan starts to sweat and their hearts beat a tad faster when Hunter is on the mound—just like when Johnson was on the mound for Baltimore last season.
The question is though: Do the Orioles really need a set closer?
Buck Showalter would probably admit that the position of closer is not natural to Hunter. If that is the case, then why not have the relievers just go another inning. Relievers like Darren O’Day and Zach Britton are only getting to pitch one inning at the most each time they get put into the game. Why not just leave them in to record three more outs if they are feeling confident in their ability.
Taking Wednesday night’s game for example again; Britton was in full command of all his pitches. He was getting the batters he faced to chase pitches low in the strike zone causing weak ground balls to be hit to the shortstop and back to him.
As a former starter, I am sure Britton could pitch two effective innings any given night. No where in the rule book of baseball does it say you have to have a closer. This statement became evident on Thursday night as Showalter put in O’Day to get the save and secure the sweep over the Rays.
If you have relievers like O’Day and Britton who hold 0.69 and 0.89 ERA’s, respectively, then is there really any need to put in Hunter just to give up a comfortable two run lead in the ninth and cause all Orioles fans to rip their hair out? I think not.