BOSTON - You see the way Tommy Hunter can overpower hitters. He replaces starter Jake Arrieta after the rain delay last night and immediately strikes out Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks.
You see the way Hunter can frustrate himself and a fan base that no longer has Kevin Gregg to kick around. He pumps fastballs at Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and watches the two players circle the bases, their back-to-back home runs giving the Red Sox a 5-3 lead.
All of it happened in the same inning. The good, the bad, the ugly.
Hunter allowed 32 home runs last season. He’s surrendered three in 3 2/3 innings over his three appearances this season.
“It’s frustrating for Tommy because he has too good of stuff to have that happen to him as often as it does,” said manager Buck Showalter, “but you also see the three or four hitters he will go through that he will look as good as you want to see.”
Showalter isn’t going to give Hunter the Gregg treatment and lay off him for nine or 10 days. And he isn’t going to burn out other relievers or stick too long with one of his starters to avoid him.
Showalter is just trying to get the most out of Hunter, who was throwing fastballs at 96-98 mph last night, and using him in short spurts out of the bullpen last season seemed to do the trick. His velocity increased and he got some big outs. He’s also capable of eating up innings if a long man is needed.
The issue, of course, is the home runs, Too many of them.
“It’s up to us and him to figure out a way to minimize that from happening,” Showalter said.
The Orioles aren’t playing with a short bullpen, but Showalter is fully aware that T.J. McFarland is a Rule 5 pick who, though fantastic in his debut against the Minnesota Twins, may not be ready for every pressure situation that comes along. He’s got to be handled with care.
Maybe Showalter should have gone to McFarland last night after the delay. Maybe it wouldn’t have been wise to pitch him in a tie game at Fenway Park. We’ll never know.
Showalter chose Hunter, and it worked for the first two batters. It backfired for the next two.
Hunter is out of minor league options. Showalter will decide if Hunter finally runs out of chances.
He’s not at that point. Not eight games into the season.