With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.
March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
RHP Tommy Hunter
Opening Day age: 28
Contract status: Under club control through the 2015 season
Minor-league options remaining: None
2014 stats: 3-2 with 11 saves, 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.7 K/IP, 4 HR, 60 2/3 innings
Why to be impressed: While many focused on his failures as a closer in the first two months of the 2014 season, Hunter pitched to a 1.83 ERA in the final four months, reestablishing himself as one of Buck Showalter’s most reliable relief arms. Historically prone to giving up the long ball, Hunter allowed a career-low 0.6 homers per nine innings pitched in 2014.
Why to be concerned: Hunter deserves credit for holding left-handed batters to a .639 on-base plus slugging percentage last year, but lefty hitters have a career .488 slugging percentage against him, which will always make Showalter take pause in deciding when to use the right-hander. Shifting to a relief role has done wonders for Hunter’s fastball velocity, but his 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014 still isn’t what you’d like to see from a reliever who can touch the high 90s with his fastball.
2015 outlook: With Andrew Miller no longer at Showalter’s disposal for the seventh and eighth innings, the Orioles will need Hunter to pick up where he left off in the final four months of 2014. He’s been working on a split-fingered fastball this spring, which would be an interesting pitch to had to his repertoire of hard stuff. An ERA south of 3.25 with success in the late innings seems reasonable for a man who’s proven himself more than capable in a non-closer role over the last couple seasons.