Photo: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports
It’s assumed that this coming season, like the three previous, will see the bullpen again be a strength and presumably one of the best in baseball. With the closer role solidified by Zach Britton and veteran Darren O’Day giving no indication he can’t continue his dominance in 2015, righty Tommy Hunter maybe the key to a successful bullpen in 2015.
Hunter has had an up-and-down time since coming to the Orioles at the trade deadline in 2011. In 2012, Hunter began the season in the rotation, but immediately looked out of place and was eventually moved to the bullpen. It was clear almost instantly, he had the stuff and demeanor to be a strong bullpen asset. His fastball immediately increased velocity, and his presence on the mound exuded confidence.
However, although his velocity and confidence made him the obvious candidate to replace Jim Johnson as the closer, for whatever reason he never looked comfortable in the role. In fact, by the middle of May he looked downright lost. It’s true that certain pitchers may just not have the disposition it takes to be a closer, but for someone with the electric stuff like Hunter is was puzzling to watch.
After a May with an ERA of 9.39 and a stint on the disabled list, there were most likely whispers around the Orioles management about whether Hunter may be broken beyond repair. However, He rebounded in the second half and again became the dominate, late-inning flame-thrower that the Orioles had seen in the previous two seasons.
Coming into this season the eighth-inning role looks to be predominantly Hunter’s, although Darren O’Day and lefty Brian Matusz be used occasionally depending on matchups. The Orioles lost a major piece of last season’s dominate bullpen when Andrew Miller quickly became too expensive for them this offseason. The move was right economically, but it does put a lot of pressure on Hunter.
It’s obvious Tommy Hunter has the stuff to be dominate and has been for long stretches in the past. However, for the Orioles to defend their division title they’ll need a great bullpen, and for the bullpen to be great they need a full season of Hunter being consistent and dominate in the setup role.