Tommy Hunter made his first appearance in a Rays uniform last night. The game was already decided as the Rays were down five in the ninth and would have to face Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth, but it still offers an opportunity to assess his potential value.
The Rays need improvement in the bullpen in 2017 and Hunter was brought in on a minor league free agent deal. He impressed the Rays enough in spring to make the opening day roster.
Hunter is generally a guy that doesn’t strike out many, with a 18.9% career strikeout rate as a reliever, and that limits walks, with a 5.2% walk rate as a reliever. Last night was uncharacteristic in that he threw 17 pitches that included nine balls, walking Brett Gardner on four pitches.
He wasn’t all that wild. He was around the zone and almost all the pitches were competitive. Althouth the strike zone had seemed wide at the start of the game, it had narrowed considerably by the time he was brought in.
Hunter started his inning by getting a weak grounder by Ronald Torreyes that was hit directly to Daniel Robertson who had just entered the field at short. After the four pitch walk to Gardner, Gary Sanchez smoked a 97.6 MPH liner directly at Robertson off a curve ball. The inning ended with a full count fly ball to Kevin Kiermaier on a cutter.
Hunter mixed in 2 four-seam fastballs, eight sinkers, four curve balls, and three cutters. His two whiffs came on the cutter. His fastball and sinker are both thrown in the 95-96 MPH range. The two pitches have distinct movement differences.
The four seamer had 4.13 inches less horizontal movement and 3.5 more inches of vertical movement. His cutter only is thrown about two MPH slower, but has 5 inches less of horizontal movement and 5.5 inches less of vertical movement than his four seamer. His curve came in at 85.87 MPH.
His first opportunity to show what he has to Rays fans was effective in that it kept runs off the board, but was underwhelming. With the caveat that we are dealing with extremely small samples at this point, Hunter is unlikely to big a major upgrade in the bullpen. If he sharpens up his control, however, he can be effective in a limited role.