With a 12-8 record and a 3.53 ERA at three minor league stops this season, Tommy Hunter has gone to battle with his best stuff more often than not.
Monday night was one exception, as he struggled to command both his fastball and curveball during parts of the outing. But that wasn't enough to stop Hunter, who battled his way through 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Round Rock Express. Though he issued four walks, he allowed only four hits and tied his Triple-A high with five strikeouts.
"Decent," replied Hunter when asked about his start. "It was just another start. I didn't get ahead early, so that's why the first inning was a struggle. But after that I fell into a groove."
The 22-year-old entered the game with only 30 walks in 149 minor league innings [1.8 BB/9 IP], but he struggled to command his stuff early on, throwing just nine of his 22 first inning pitches for strikes. He also issued two walks in the opening frame.
"Four walks and three to the same guy I think," said Hunter of his control. "It was frustrating, to say the least. The breaking ball – I didn't throw many strikes with it. That was a problem, so I had to get the fastballs over for strikes. Thankfully that happened in the second inning through the fifth, sixth, and seventh."
Hunter's plus curveball has been remarkably consistent this season, but he was unable to find the plate with the offering for the majority the game. The hurler says he can only remember one other time when he was unable to command his breaking pitch.
"This is the second time," Hunter said when asked how often he struggles with his breaking ball. "I can tell you that for a fact. The other time where I couldn't do that was my first outing [in the Majors] against Toronto. I couldn't get the curveball over for a strike."
Part of Hunter's inconsistencies on Monday could be attributed to the rough weather. Even though MinorLeagueBaseball.com listed the game time temperature at 84 degrees, it was an incredibly hot and humid evening, creating a difficult environment for watching a baseball game, let alone pitching in one.
"It was hot," he said. "This might have been the hottest day of the year that I've pitched in, besides maybe the first game in Texas. It was 106 then, but even 106 then wasn't comparable to tonight. It was hot, to say the least. Let's just say the rosin bag came in handy later in the game."
Even though his curveball was lacking in the start, Hunter was able to succeed by attacking with his four-seam fastball. The right-hander has exclusively featured a four-seamer for his entire life – until Monday.
"I started to try and break out a new pitch, something I don't usually do," Hunter said. "I used a two-seam fastball. I tried it out, threw one tonight, and fortunately it worked out for me tonight."
The new pitch is still a definite work-in-progress, but Hunter looks forward to developing the new wrinkle.
"[I've thrown it in] one bullpen," he replied. "The one time I threw it, it worked. It's something we need to work on in the bullpen and just see where it goes from there."
Despite his success in the minor leagues, Hunter is not quite satisfied with his season. The University of Alabama product recently saw his first Major League action, going 0-2 in three starts with the Rangers.
"It was awful," said Hunter of his experience in the Majors. "There's nothing to say. I had 20 something earned runs in 10 innings. Not too many excuses. It was not good."
Before Hunter gets his second opportunity with the Rangers, he realizes there are some aspects of his game that must be polished.
"I've got to learn to do a few things," he said. "To throw a changeup behind in the count and throw a two-seam fastball. Something other than something that always cuts away or stays straight and hard. It's just something I need to do. To be in a situation where I could get moved back up, that's what I've got to do and that is what I'm focused on now."
Hunter working with new pitch
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