Tommy Hunter says 'pretty good game plan' has led to his recent success

SportsBaseballBaltimore OriolesTommy HunterMinnesota TwinsJim JohnsonTarget Field

MINNEAPOLIS — There are no secrets as far as Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter is concerned.

He figures he's been a good pitcher in the past — he went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA for the Texas Rangers in 2010 — and he'll be a good pitcher in the future.

So he's not even slightly surprised that he's currently a good pitcher — in fact he's arguably the Orioles' most effective one right now. He hasn't been scored on in his last nine appearances out of the bullpen, a span of 14 2/3 innings.

"I was good once before, I guess you could say," Hunter said, smiling. "I don't know what to really say of it, but I'm just going out and am having a game plan. We've been talking pitch selection. Just being confident with the pitches you throw, and it has been working out."

Hunter picked up the win in Friday's improbable 9-6, 10-inning victory against the Minnesota Twins, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings as his club stormed back from a 6-0 deficit. He now has three wins this season — and was chided by teammate Darren O'Day for having more wins this year in relief than he did as a starter in 2012 (not quite; Hunter won four games in 20 starts in 2012).

So what's been the difference?

"I started to throw [before] and not actually pitch [like now], set guys up, throw the right pitch with confidence," Hunter said. "All I know is I've got a pretty good game plan right now. I'm trying to stay down in the zone, make some pitches and go from there."

In his career, Hunter has a 4.88 ERA in 75 games as a starter; as a reliever he has a 2.75 ERA in 35 appearances.

The Orioles have made him a full-time reliever because they believe his mentality, his array of pitches and his increased velocity on his fastball — which now hits in the mid to high 90s — suits him better in the bullpen.

But pitching coach Rick Adair said he thinks Hunter was a little careless with his fastball earlier this season — when he was scored on in two of his first three appearances — before settling in by using his other pitches to set up the fastball.

"Delivery wise he is a little more efficient," Adair said. "I think with coming out of the bullpen last year and having the reputation that all of a sudden his velocity increased, I think earlier in the year first couple outings he was pitching to the reputation. I think he forgot a little bit about the pitching aspect of it, which he can do."

Hunter is now 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA — which has to silence his critics for now.

"Nobody wants to hear people talking [stuff] about you. That's never a pleasant time in anybody's career, life, whatever," Hunter said. "You've kind of got to brush it off. I know what I am capable of doing and hopefully I can keep this going and have more in the tank."

Burnett optioned to Triple-A

Alex Burnett's stay in the majors didn't last long — only three days this time — but at least the right-handed reliever appeared in a game.

He was recalled Wednesday, pitched one scoreless inning Thursday against the Kansas City Royals and was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday afternoon when the Orioles promoted Saturday night's starter Steve Johnson.

This was the second time the Orioles recalled Burnett — he first was brought up April 22, stayed two games without pitching, and went back down. Such is the life of a minor league pitcher on the 40-man roster. He could be up and down much of the season as the club continues to shuffle in fresh arms to the bullpen.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he has been impressed in his limited interaction with Burnett, who was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays in April.

"He's a guy I enjoy talking to. He's alert, looks you right in the eye. He understands what's going on," Showalter said. "[He said], 'I'll keep doing the same things I did to get back here. I hope nobody gets hurt, and I love the situation we have in Norfolk. If you got to be in Triple-A, that's the kind of club you want to be on.' He's real impressive."

Around the horn

Making his Triple-A Norfolk debut, 26-year-old left-hander Jake Pettit allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings in the Tides' 3-2 victory over Syracuse on Saturday. Pettit, a 42nd-round pick out of Western Oregon University in 2010, allowed eight hits, no walks and struck out seven batters in the game. … The Orioles have not announced where and when Miguel Gonzalez (blister) and Tsuyoshi Wada (elbow) will pitch their first rehabilitation games this week. It's possible the two will pitch on the same day, possibly Thursday, at separate affiliates. … Since Sept. 7, 2011, Orioles closer Jim Johnson leads the majors in saves with 72. The next closest is Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel with 57. … The Orioles' 9-6 victory Friday night, in which they trailed 6-0 in the sixth inning, was the first time they won by more than three runs after trailing by six or more in the sixth or later since June 15, 1983, when they were down 7-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers and won 11-8 in 10 innings. … Former Ravens center Matt Birk, a Minnesota native, was at Target Field as part of a pre-game Pepsi home run contest. Birk came in second, hitting two softballs over the wall (from a center field plate). The Twins mascot, T.C., won.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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