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Orioles spotlight: Returning reliever Tommy Hunter

Orioles spotlight: Returning reliever Tommy Hunter
Tommy Hunter of the Baltimore Orioles works the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 2, 2016 in Baltimore. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Tommy Hunter isn't one to use conversational bromides — he's far quicker with a quip than that. But if he were, the one about letting someone you love go and knowing it's meant to be if he comes back might ring true for him.

Traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2015, after parts of five seasons with the Orioles, Hunter rejoined the team as a free agent on Aug. 28 amid great celebration in the clubhouse, where he is beloved by his teammates. The feeling is mutual.

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A few weeks after his return, Hunter stepped in the Orioles spotlight for a chat about life after the Orioles, what changed while he was gone and how opponents prepare for this team.

You really had set down your stakes here, but it must be hard to recalibrate once you leave. Everyone who is here talks about how special it is, but does it take going somewhere else to realize that?

Every team in general has got good clubhouses. Anywhere you go, you're going to run into a group of guys you get along with here and there. I got the opportunity to watch a lot of these guys turn into the players they are today, too. I think that's a little different than just going somewhere free-agent-wise and not knowing any of the younger guys. You see guys come up and don't understand the dynamic as much. That's why this place is as fun as it is for me, just for the fact that I've played with these guys for so many years and know everybody who's coming up, the moving parts.

As an outside observer, it seems you just being around has lightened the mood with this team. Do you see that in yourself? Do the guys tell you as much?

Oh, man. No. Everybody likes to have fun. You know, you get your serious no-fun people like Matt Wieters, and everybody else, you've got to somehow balance that out. [Wieters, three feet away, laughs.] But it's just trying to fit in, play your part and try to stay in the background as much as possible. I let these guys go out and play and fill in when I need to.

What changed the most in the year you were gone from here? What's jumped out being back?

Everybody's role is evolving here. Brad Brach is coming up. [Mychal] Givens is in the mix. Tyler Wilson is in the big leagues. There's a lot of guys who were on the fringe two years ago, three years ago, last year. Now those guys are prevalent faces in this clubhouse. It's something you like to see, and you just hopefully continue to be a part of something that continues to grow and evolve.

[Brach] is a stud. Everybody knew he had it in him. It was just a matter of time before it happened. Fortunately, it happened to him this year. He got to go back, to the All-Star Game [in San Diego] where it all started and show them, "You probably shouldn't have gotten rid of me." A nice subtle jab and probably a big win for him, personally. … But hats off to guys like that who set goals and make those goals become reality.

You had the chance to sit in an advanced meeting or two in Cleveland and prepare to face this Orioles lineup. What's that mentality teams try to have?

It's just game management. You've got to work your way around the lineup, you've got to know who. Limiting damage is more of a concern when you're facing guys in this lineup. They're going to get their hits. They're going to hit the ball out of the park a couple of times. You don't want them to, don't get me wrong. But reality is a little better of a judge than anything else. You're going to give up a home run. It's just a matter of giving up a home run with guys on or no guys on. You've just got to limit walks, keep guys in the bottom half of the zone. Hopefully, the ground balls don't find holes. And then, good luck. Hopefully your defense is on their toes, and the walls don't come down when they hit it.

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