Hunter 'paying' for his curveball

SAN ANTONIO - Tommy Hunter may be focused on having success at the Double-A level, but he is also looking to improve his changeup. Lone Star Dugout profiles Hunter's latest start while taking a look at his unique way of developing the offspeed pitch.

"It was good – a solid outing," said Frisco hurler Tommy Hunter after his start on June 6. "There were a couple of mistakes here and there. The ball carried a little bit on that last ball and they scored two runs."

Although the ‘Riders lost by a 2-0 score, Hunter pitched well. The right-hander went seven innings – throwing 101 pitches – giving up two runs on five hits. He walked three and struck out two.

Both of Hunter's runs allowed came on a two-out, two run triple by Mike Baxter in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Hunter cruised early, but he ran into a few problems in the third inning. The righty had some control issues in the frame, leading to a pair of walks. Pitching coach Terry Clark came out to settle his pitcher down.

"Get on top of the ball and throw it," replied Hunter when asked what Clark told him. "He said you can't baby it. I have got a tendency to do that every once in awhile – just trying to spot it up instead of just throwing it. I don't like walks – I have never had this many walks in my life – but it's an adjustment to here."

The Alabama product faced the San Antonio Missions in his first Double-A start. He had similar success, surrendering only one run in seven innings of work.

But the two starts could not have been more different. In the first outing, Hunter threw 32 curveballs. On Friday, he didn't break out the plus curve until there were two outs in the third inning. He threw just 14 in the game.

"I had a little bet with Thomas Diamond," he said. "He told me to be a power pitcher. He said I've got 20 curveballs to use per game. Any curveball over that is five bucks a curveball. That is a steep little scenario right there, so I didn't want that to happen.

"I have just been trying to use fastball-changeup from now on while using the breaking ball as an out pitch, kind of like I tried to do tonight."

That is exactly what Hunter did on Friday night. The former first round pick attacked early and often with his 88-92 mph fastball. But Hunter also used his changeup quite a bit – a pitch that he had not really thrown before this season.

Hunter says that until his last two starts, he had never pitched off his fastball and changeup before.

"Usually when I'm feeling [the curveball], I'm throwing it," said Hunter. "When I'm not feeling it, I don't throw it. I think it is actually making me more of a three-pitch pitcher. I think I probably threw 17 or 18 changeups tonight. I couldn't tell you if I have thrown 17 or 18 changeup in six consecutive games before – combined."

Even though the bet has only been in play for two starts, Hunter has already noticed drastic improvement in his changeup. The prospect believes the 13 groundouts he induced on Friday were largely due to hitters getting on top of his 84 mph changeup.

"[The changeup] is definitely improving," said the 21-year-old. "I don't know exactly the number of ground balls tonight, but I can tell you off the top of my head that six of them were changeup pitches. I guess if I continue to do that, I'm going to be okay with the changeup."

Aside from the incentive of keeping his hard earned money, Hunter is already realizing his bet with Diamond could speed up his path to the Major Leagues.

"It's just trying to pitch, trying to get better," he said. "Fastball-curveball worked for me since I've been in baseball. Now I have got to throw a third pitch.

"For me to better myself as a pitcher, the changeup has to be a factor in the game. It can't just be a show-me pitch. It has got to be thrown."

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