Hunter changing it up

The Rangers selected right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter in the supplemental first round of the 2007 draft. After tossing 17.2 innings for the Spokane Indians, Hunter joined the fall instructional league at the club's minor league complex in Surprise, Ariz. Lone Star Dugout has a FREE question-and-answer feature with the 21-year-old hurler.

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The Texas Rangers drafted 6-foot-3, 255-pound pitcher Tommy Hunter with the 54th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Though Hunter's body may not resemble that of an elite athlete at first glance, he is actually relatively athletic.

Hunter, who was a draft-eligible sophomore, shuffled between the starting rotation and bullpen in two seasons at the University of Alabama. The right-hander posted a 17-8 record with a 3.57 ERA during his career with the Crimson Tide.

A native of Indianapolis, Ind., Hunter played alongside fellow Rangers draft pick Julio Borbon with Team USA in 2006. Hunter helped lead the team to a 28-2 record and a Gold medal at the FISU World Championships in Cuba. He was 3-0 with a 3.80 ERA in 14 appearances – 21.1 innings – for the U.S.

The Rangers chose to use Hunter out of the bullpen in his professional debut with the short-season Spokane Indians this past summer. The 21-year-old tossed 17.2 innings and gave up five earned runs on 15 hits. He walked one and struck out 13.

The Alabama product throws a low-90's fastball, a hard curveball, and a changeup. Though he was used as a reliever with Spokane, he is expected to move into a full-time starting role in 2008.

Hunter appeared in his final instructionals game of the year last Thursday and tossed three shutout innings. Lone Star Dugout was able to speak with the righty afterwards.

Jason Cole: How did you feel about your performance today?

Tommy Hunter: I felt good. It was my last outing – three innings. It was the longest outing I've had and I felt good.

Cole: How many times did you pitch at instructs?

Hunter: I had four appearances.

Cole: Did you go longer in each outing?

Hunter: I threw one inning, two innings, two innings, and then this last one was three innings.

Cole: After throwing a lot of innings at Alabama, pitching some with Spokane, and now here at instructs, is your arm a little bit tired?

Hunter: I've played a lot of baseball. I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it was tired. I'm done. It's time to rest. A lot of innings doesn't matter really compared to what guys throw in a major league season. It's nothing. I'm just going to get ready for it and come back next year.

Cole: What are you going to do to get ready for next year?

Hunter: I have a personal trainer in Atlanta that I'm going to be going to starting November 10th. I will be there until January 21st when I come back out here.

Cole: Going back to the regular season, what are your thoughts on your performance in Spokane?

Hunter: It was shaky. It wasn't what I was used to. It was a long break between the time the draft came around to the time I started pitching for Spokane. I think that had a lot to do with it. I know those are excuses, but it does affect the way you are. Eight weeks of not throwing the ball is pretty rough. I basically had to start over from Spokane to now. Now it's cooling off.

Cole: Is it safe to say you'll be starting next year?

Hunter: I'm not sure what they're going to do. I'm under the assumption that I will be starting. I have no idea where and I have no idea what's going to happen, but starting might be in my future.

Cole: Do you prefer one over the other?

Hunter: No. I just want to play.

Cole: As I understand it you were a two-time junior Olympic judo champion?

Hunter: Yeah. It was a birthday present when I was five. Fortunately I got into a great instructor and he taught me how to win at an early age. There was a lot of competition in my life. My sister also won. I don't know if anybody knows that, but my sister won it the year before I did. Then I won it in back-to-back years. It was an experience and it was something I'll never forget.

Hunter has a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.
Cole: You got to play your college ball at Alabama in the SEC. How did the level of competition there compare to out here at instructs?

Hunter: The SEC is tough. The big difference is aluminum bats. Just imagine some of these guys out here with aluminum bats. You see balls flying out of here every day with wood bats, so imagine these guys with aluminum bats. As soon as you do see that, that's when you can draw comparisons. But this is pro ball and that's SEC. There is a difference. The players are more mature here. But then again you have your Pedro Alvarez's, your Justin Smoak's, and your David Price's. You have your big go-to guys. Those guys are very comparable to these guys here.

Cole: While in the SEC, you got a chance to play against Julio Borbon and Mitch Moreland. What do you feel those guys will bring to the Rangers organization?

Hunter: They're SEC players. Julio is already a five-tool player. There's nobody like him. Mitch Moreland – his personality is out of this world. He's that guy that will do anything for anybody else. He's a first baseman, a solid hitter. The funny thing about it is that Alabama took the series from both of them in the last two years, so I can talk any time I want around them.

Cole: What has been your focus here at instructs?

Hunter: Changeups.

Cole: Was that something you threw much in college?

Hunter: No. That last inning I threw eight changeups. I don't know if I threw eight changeups in the whole year. That's just something I need to learn. Rick Adair has been working with me – him and Chavy [Dave Chavarria]. I'm just out here making sure I know when to establish it, when to throw it, and how to throw it. I want to be able to take some speed off. That's what I came out here trying to do. We accomplished something.

Cole: How do you feel that went?

Hunter: Oh yeah. Like I said, I threw it eight times last inning. If you would've told me before this instructs that I'll throw eight changeups in an inning, there's no chance I'd believe you. But there are a lot of guys out here. Everybody is learning and everybody is getting better. That's what we're out here to do.

Cole: I know your curveball has always been a pretty good pitch for you. Do you feel that has improved since joining the organization?

Hunter: I'm getting used to it again. I changed up my delivery with my windup and everything a little bit. Everything has changed a little bit. I'm getting used to throwing the curveball. People don't understand it, but it's just different. If you change the momentum or you change the way your windup is, that's changing your arm angle and that's changing everything. It's just getting used to everything again and I think I'm doing that.

Cole: Can you talk about the changes you made in your windup?

Hunter: It was at the beginning of instructs. Everything is straight forward instead of off to the side a little bit.

Cole: What exactly do you mean by that?

Hunter: Rocker step. I don't know if that means anything to you, but the rocker step is the first initial movement made out of the windup. It used to be a side step for me, but now it's straight back. I'm trying to keep all my momentum going forward instead of off to the side, coming back, and then going forward. So everything is backwards and forwards now. It's not sideways, backwards, forwards. Like I said, that has a lot to do with arm angle and getting the ball to where it used to be. I just had to make adjustments and the rocker step has worked for me as of this instructs. I'm going to stick with it.

Cole: Were the Rangers trying to accomplish or improve anything in specific by doing that?

Hunter: It did improve something. I had a natural cut on my fastball, which at times is not good at all. I think that's something that was established and that's something I've now corrected. That was part of that. It was also not enabling me to throw a changeup. When I was coming across my body, the ball would cut on a changeup and that's not good.

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