Finding a role for Hunter

Last week, I wrote about Chris Tillman being out of minor league options and how his status could come into play as he attempts to make the Orioles’ rotation in spring training.

Tommy Hunter is in a similar position. He’s also out of options, but he’s got experience pitching in relief and could continue in that role next season.

Hunter made 20 starts out of his 33 appearances in 2012 and finished the year 7-8 with a 5.45 ERA. He allowed 161 hits and surrendered 32 home runs in 133 2/3 innings.

Check out his numbers in September. Hunter made 10 relief appearances and went 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, with 12 hits, two walks, 12 strikeouts and no home runs allowed.

As a starter, Hunter was 4-8 with a 5.71 ERA and 30 homers allowed in 116 2/3 innings this season. As a reliever, he was 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA and two homers allowed in 17 innings.

In his career, Hunter is 29-23 with a 4.88 ERA and 79 homers allowed in 435 1/3 innings over 75 starts, and 4-1 with a 3.44 ERA and three homers allowed in 34 innings over 23 relief appearances.

Hunter will be given a chance to crack the rotation, which could have only one opening with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Tillman favorites to occupy four of the spots. If he fails, he will have to force his way into a bullpen that could include Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Darren O’Day, Troy Patton and Brian Matusz.

That’s six relievers if Matusz doesn’t make the rotation and if he avoids being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles figure to carry seven of them as part of a 12-man pitching staff.

Hunter could be the long reliever that the Orioles lacked when they broke camp last spring. He could be a power arm who cranks out upper-90s fastballs for an inning or two.

The first order of business is getting a new contract. Hunter is one of the Orioles’ 16 arbitration-eligible players.

Shameless plug alert: I’ll be joining Rob Long today, Wednesday and Friday from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” on MASN. We’ll talk about the Orioles, Nationals, Ravens, Redskins and more.

Long is replacing Amber Theoharis, who moved on to The NFL Network.

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