On March 19, I was able to grab a few minutes and chat with the prospective closer for the 2014 Baltimore Orioles -- Tommy Hunter.
How Hunter handles the position early on is a big key to how well the Orioles will fare at the start of what figures to be a tough four-team race in the American League East. Hunter just may have the edge in handling one of the focal points of talk about the Orioles' 2014 season.
PressBox: What were your first thoughts when you heard that Jim Johnson was traded? Did they immediately reflect back on you?
Tommy Hunter: Anytime somebody gets traded or leaves a team, there opens up an opportunity for somebody else, and I did think it might open up something for me. But Jim's a great guy, so I don't want it to sound like I was jumping for joy. He's a big part of this team. But he is over in Oakland now. You have to kind of move on, and it put me in the situation I'm in now.
PB: Has manager Buck Showalter ever communicated to you that you have the shot at being the closer?
TH: No. I mean we'll all find out. I don't know. We'll see what happens.
PB: How did watching what Johnson went through these past two years affect how you approach the closer role?
TH: What did he go through?
PB: He was kind of on top of the mountain in 2012, and then hit some bumps last season.
TH: Bumps? Bumps still got him 50 saves. I don't consider that too many bumps for 50 saves.
PB: Well, he had 50 saves last season, but had nine blown saves. How do you come back from that?
TH: You can't really concentrate on the bumps, man. That's the difference between baseball players and media personnel. You guys have to concentrate on all the bad stuff, and we have to concentrate on all the good stuff. I don't really consider Jim having many bumps in his time as an Oriole. He set a precedent for not only himself, but for all of us. He played well, and he played hard, and he was really serious about his job, and was a large part of the transition to take this team where it's been.
PB: Showalter stuck with Johnson through thick and thin. What does that say to you as you approach the job?
TH: It tells us all as a team that he has our backs. It's a long season, and nobody in this room knows what it's like except the guys who are doing it. He's with us through thick or thin, and he's the man at the top.
PB: Coming into this camp with the chance to be the closer, did it change the way you prepared?
TH: No different from the year before. It's baseball. You still have play catch, still got to throw the ball, still have to hit the ball. A lot of this game is out of your control, so you have to control the things you can. Locating a pitch down and away is something you can control. You can't control anything once the ball leaves your hand. So that's my mindset. It's been that for the last couple years, so I am just going to go out there and play and let everyone else talk.
PB: The notion of coming into the game with the game on the line, is that something you like or relish?
TH: It gets your adrenaline going -- that's for sure. It's a chance to help the team win, and you got to really have that mindset that it's a team game and you got to do what you can to help the team win.
PB: How do you create that adrenaline down here? The other day, I saw you throw at Twin Lakes Park. The conditions were windy as hell, not at all like you'd face during a regular-season game.
TH: You can't up and say, "I am going to create some adrenaline today." When the lights come on and that third row of seating [in the upper decks] it brings something out in all of us. We're excited to get the season started, and it can't get here soon enough.
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