Tommy Hunter responded to my text message yesterday with a phone call, asked how I was doing and said he would be sitting in a tree later in the afternoon.
I imagined him placing the star on top - the final touch to his holiday decorating - until I figured out that he meant a tree stand.
He’s a hunter in more ways than one.
Why did I contact Tommy Hunter? Because I’m lonely and it’s the holidays and I tend to get bluesy.
But seriously ...
I wanted to gauge his interest in becoming the Orioles closer next season, which is a distinct possibility. As you know, they’re making a strong push for free agent Fernando Rodney, but money is an object. Hunter is the leading in-house candidate despite is lack of experience in the role.
Hunter has four career saves, all of them collected in 2013. He met with manager Buck Showalter late in the season and offered another reminder that he’d rather be a starter. He isn’t miserable in the bullpen - far from it - but the rotation keeps calling out to him.
Would he really be OK with tuning it out and replacing Jim Johnson as the closer?
“Hell yeah, I’d be OK with it,” he replied. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Well, the whole starting thing.
“It’s something that would be fun and pretty exciting,” he continued. “It’s the end of the game and everybody is usually pumped up. If the closer is in the game, it’s usually pretty close.
“The couple of times that I got to do it last year, I loved it, but it’s up to somebody else. The cards aren’t in my hands. Buck has a plan, but I wish that I could. I’d love to step in, but I’ve got to be presented with an opportunity. The door’s got to be open for me to walk through it.
“I’ll take it day-by-day. And right now, if they give me the ball, whenever they give it to me, I’m going to throw and I’ll be ready.”
Each day that the Orioles fail to reach agreement with a free agent closer, and approve his physical, brings Hunter closer to the role.
“I would hope so,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind running out there. It’s something that, it’s a pretty cool job. There’s only 30 of them in the league. It’s a pretty cool situation to even have your name involved in. And like I said, if they give me the ball, I’m probably going to throw just as hard and just as good as if I was entering in the seventh, eighth or ninth. I don’t care. I’ll be ready to go.”
Hunter’s first career save came in Game 2 of an April 20 doubleheader against the Dodgers at Camden Yards. He tossed three scoreless innings in a 6-1 victory, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out two.
Not the usual method for getting a save, but it’s in the rules.
Hunter’s second save came on June 28 in a 4-3 win over the Yankees at Camden Yards. He worked the final two innings, allowing one hit, fanning three and throwing 19 of his 25 pitches for strikes.
Hunter’s third save arrived in the 10th inning of a 5-2 win on Aug. 9 in San Francisco. He worked a perfect frame, throwing seven of 10 pitches for strikes.
The fourth save also was packaged in a perfect inning, with Hunter throwing eight of 11 pitches for strikes in a 4-2 victory over the Rays.
I suppose the real test, as Showalter so often points out, would be holding a one-run lead on the road in the American League East. Hunter hasn’t be faced with that challenge.
Maybe next year.
“Hopefully, all of this will get squared away in the next couple of weeks and everyone will have a clear mind heading into spring training. And that’s the thing. You just don’t want this to linger around,” Hunter said.
“Buck is pretty much known for his open competitions in spring training. It just makes everybody else better. And if that’s what it comes down to, that’s what it comes down to. You better bring you’re A Game to spring training. That’s what it tells me. You better be ready to try to win a job.”