In his years in Baltimore, right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter didn't get a lot of love from a vocal quadrant of the fan base. He didn't succeed as a closer and, when he didn't pitch well, it was magnified because he was often in high-pressure, high-profile situations.
And he certainly wasn't having his best season this year, pitching to a 3.63 ERA in 39 games in 2015 as an Oriole after posting sub-3.00 ERAs in his previous two seasons with the club.
But he's an experienced major league reliever. He's started a World Series game. No situation is too much for him.
So, when the Orioles carried a 4-4 tie into the 11th inning Sunday, it would have been a perfect time to use Hunter, who was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 31 for outfielder Junior Lake.
(It was a curious deal, partially because the right-handed hitting Lake seems to be redundant with Nolan Reimold also on the roster, at least for now, though Lake is only 25. But that's a blog for another day.)
It seems that one of the main reasons to trade Hunter, a pending free agent, was because the Orioles wanted to have more roster maneuverability in their bullpen, and no one had minor league options remaining. So by trading Hunter and releasing Bud Norris, the Orioles gained roster flexibility with two spots, which they used for optionable relievers Mike Wright (now injured) and Mychal Givens.
Makes sense. But then they blocked one of those avenues Thursday when they recalled Rule 5 right-hander Jason Garcia from his expired injury rehab stint. Garcia can't be sent to the minors without having to be put through waivers (and, after that, he must be offered back to his original team, the Boston Red Sox).
Garcia, who is 23 and throws in the mid-90s, might have a bright future, but he's not a pitcher manager Buck Showalter can immediately trust in extra innings.
So, once T.J. McFarland, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach had combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings, Showalter had to turn to Chaz Roe, who was great in May and June but has struggled in the second half. After Roe gave up a leadoff double and then recorded an out, Showalter turned to lefty Brian Matusz to strike out lefty Kole Calhoun.
Showalter said he didn't want to use closer Zach Britton, who had warmed up for a full inning on Saturday, so it was up to Matusz to get one more out and whisk the Orioles out of the 11th.
And since Matusz is so much better against lefties, Showalter had him intentionally walk Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to face left-hander David Murphy, who drove in the game-winner.
Matusz had no room for error with the bases loaded. And when he threw three of his first four pitches for balls, he then had to abandon his breaking stuff to make sure he threw strikes. And a veteran hitter like Murphy was waiting for his pitch.
If Hunter had been on this team, though, he probably would have started the 11th. Or, he might have been called in to face Trout or Pujols. Those two superstars are each 0-for-6 against Hunter lifetime.
Maybe Hunter wouldn't have gotten the job done. But he has more experience than Roe and Garcia combined.
The point is that the Orioles weakened their bullpen with the trade of Hunter in hopes guys like Wright and Givens could fill the void. But Wright's on the disabled list and Givens is in Bowie.