In an obvious move, Hunter is closer. Buck talked to him last night. #orioles— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) March 31, 2014
The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly points out that the move, which comes just hours before Baltimore's season opener against the Boston Red Sox, hardly comes as a surprise:
Tommy Hunter will close today. And for the foreseeable future Buck said. Not a surprise but he did tell Hunter that.— Dan Connolly (@danconnollysun) March 31, 2014
The 27-year-old right-hander is entering his third full season with the American League East division hopefuls after coming over from the Texas Rangers in 2011. He appeared in a career-high 68 games in 2013, going 6-5 with four saves and 21 holds.
His 2.81 ERA in 86.1 innings pitched was the best of his career.
Prior to the Opening Day announcement, Hunter talked about the challenges that come with being a closer in the majors and expressed total confidence in his ability to deliver in the role, per The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck:
Yeah, I don't have a problem with it. I mean, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. I like that quote. I'm not going to leave anything out on the field, and there are going to be times you're going to get beat...The guys who can forget the previous day are the ones who are going to play for a while, and I want to play for a while.
Hunter will have big shoes to fill in 2014 as he takes over for Jim Johnson, who was dealt to the Oakland Athletics this offseason. Johnson became the first American League reliever to record at least 50 saves in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013.
It doesn't help that Hunter and the Orioles play in what is arguably baseball's best division, one that includes the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Hunter will also have to prove himself in the new role as he only has four saves for his career. He has certainly come a long way since his rocky debut with the Rangers back in 2008, when he went 0-2 with a 16.36 ERA in three starts and 11 total innings.
Still, there will be early bumps in the road and lessons to be learned for Hunter as he looks to thrive in a crucial role for the Orioles, who have legitimate postseason hopes heading into their fourth full season under Buck Showalter.
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