Even though he didn't get the win or even a quality start Sunday, pitcher Tommy Hunter kept the Orioles in the game en route to a 5-3 win over Kansas City. He had a high pitch count early, but finished out the 5th inning — and his start — at 97 pitches, exiting with the score tied at 3.
"Tommy bent but didn't break," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It wasn't one of his sharper outings, but he gave us a chance to win, didn't let it get away from him."
When Hunter has struggled this season, it has mostly stemmed from the home run ball. He has given up 27 on the season, which is good for second-most in the major leagues. Considering he has the worst home-run-per-nine-innings average in baseball — 2.07 — he might be leading in the home runs allowed category if not for three games at Triple-A Norfolk earlier in the year.
But Hunter limited the damage Sunday, allowing just one long ball in the fourth inning to Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas. His final line on Sunday was unspectacular — allowing three runs on two walks and eight hits while striking out two — but it got the job done.
"It wasn't one of the best," Hunter said. "But something that you've got to battle and get it done and keep them in the game."
Hunter's high pitch count was helped by the fact that he walked two batters after going 13 consecutive starts without issuing more than one walk. Still, Hunter still probably could have pitched another inning if needed.
But with an off day Monday, Showalter had a little more flexibility with his bullpen, giving right-hander Luis Ayala the ball to start the sixth inning. Ayala pitched a perfect inning to earn the win, and the bullpen shut out the Royals without giving up a hit the rest of the way.
"Those guys have been doing it all year," Hunter said. "It's pretty fun to give them the ball and say, 'Here's the game, you guys go win it.' They've been doing it all year and they're going to continue to do it. They're pretty good back there."
Hammel's rehab going well
Right-hander Jason Hammel said his rehab is on schedule after undergoing surgery on his right knee more than three weeks ago. The 29-year-old threw off the front of the mound Saturday, and said he didn't feel any pain or swelling in the knee Sunday morning.
"He said he got up this morning, got out of bed and didn't even think about it," Showalter said.
Hammel will throw an undetermined amount of pitches off the actual mound Monday, hoping to return to the rotation by September. Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.54 ERA before he had to have loose cartilage removed from his knee in mid-July.
"I was saying Monday that it wasn't feeling too awesome and I was a little worried because it was moving slow," Hammel said. "Then three days in a row, boom, boom, boom, real good improvement, so it's something that could change either way."
Jones steps out of center
For the first time in 2012, someone other than Adam Jones started in center field for the Orioles. Jones was still in the lineup as the designated hitter, but Nate McLouth manned center field for the first time this year. The last time Jones didn't start a game in center field was Sept. 19, 2011 — a span of 122 straight games. The 2012 All-Star went 1-3 with a run scored in his first career start as the designated hitter.
"I usually try to give guys who go to the All-Star game another day, to give them their true day off," Showalter said. "But we haven't really had a spot [to do that] for Jones. Nate has had a lot of experience in center field."
McClouth has started the past two games in the third spot in the lineup after getting called up to Baltimore last week. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored Sunday, and made a great sliding catch in center to end the 7th inning.
Around the horn
Utilityman Ryan Flaherty will start a rehab assignment in Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday to recover from a bacterial infection. The Tides are in the International League wild-card race, so Showalter anticipates Flaherty — who has played six positions for the Orioles this year — to fit into the lineup at any position needed. … The Orioles optioned reliever Miguel Socolovich to Norfolk after Sunday's game. He is expected to be replaced on the Orioles' roster by Jason Berken, who has been taken out of Norfolk's rotation in anticipation of for a September call-up to Baltimore. … Outfielder Lew Ford turned 35 on Sunday.