As much as we can try to tell ourselves every bullpen has its moments of failure, and that some of those blown saves are just part of the game, the Rays bullpen has seemed over-the-top nerve-wracking this season. The team is tied for the league lead with 19 blown saves this season, and their 25 losses in relief is topped by only the Milwaukee Brewers.
That’s why Tuesday night’s game against the Astros was such an intense affair. The club jumped out to a nice 5-0 lead and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. That’s when things got interesting. Kevin Cash left Chris Archer in to start the inning, possibly in part because of how shaky the pen has been at times this season. Archer quickly gave up a double and a single as the ’Stros cut the lead to three. Then Steve Cishek came in and immediately gave up a double. After getting two outs, Cishek was removed in favor of Dan Jennings, to get the favorable LOOGY match up, but Jennings walked the one man he was brought in to face. Now with men on first and third and the Rays holding only a two-run lead, the tension was palpable.
So who did Cash turn to? Tommy Hunter.
Hunter got arguably the best hitter in baseball this year (Jose Altuve) to ground out to end the seventh and then set the Astros down in order in the eighth to hand the ball over to Alex Colome, the Rays slightly-beleaguered closer. By the time Hunter was done on the mound, the game wasn’t yet in hand, but it felt A LOT more comfortable.
And that shouldn’t be surprising at this point.
Hunter now sports a 1.75 ERA on the season, and he has somehow been even better of late.
Another strong outing for #Rays Hunter. Has retired 10 batters straight over last 3 appearances, and 16 of last 17 have been scoreless— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) August 2, 2017
In those aforementioned 17 outings, he has allowed a .130/.203/.185 slash line with just seven hits and five walks compared to 19 strikeouts over 16.1 innings.
Hunter has seen a steady uptick in his velocity all season, as we can see below.
And he seems primed to be as important a player down the stretch for the Rays as you’ll find on the roster.
Signed by the Rays for his postseason experience, Tommy Hunter has become the best version of himself in his age-31 season.
For the Rays, the timing is perfect. The starting lineup and rotation will see plenty more time on the field than Hunter, but no player will do more to placate the worries of Rays fans than Mr. Tommy Hunter if he can keep up this current run he’s on.