Do not be shocked if Tommy Hunter becomes a key piece this season

Tommy Hunter (29) of the New York Mets throws a pitch on May 8, 2021 at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.
Tommy Hunter (29) of the New York Mets throws a pitch on May 8, 2021 at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y. / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

The New York Mets made a move on Tuesday, as they brought back veteran pitcher Tommy Hunter on a minor league contract, a move that could benefit the Mets at some point this season. Hunter pitched for the Mets last May, throwing eight scoreless innings over four pitching appearances before he missed the rest of the season with back issues. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in July for Rich Hill.

Fans remember Hunter last season for hisinteresting postgame interviews, and recording a 1.000 career batting average with the Mets.

Buck Showalter knows Hunter is best suited as a reliever, which could strength the Mets biggest weakness

After struggling as a starting pitcher in 2011 and through much of the 2012 season with the Baltimore Orioles, Showalter, then the Orioles skipper, moved him to the bullpen in September 2012. He has pitched to a 3.10 earned run average as a full-time reliever since then, and his fielding independent pitching has consistently been better than league average.

In his 415.2 innings as a reliever, he’s allowed only 37 home runs, and that’s on him generating a lot of ground balls with his sinker. For a team with a strong defensive infield like the Mets do, his sinker should come to great use, especially if Jeff McNeil or Luis Guillorme play second base and Dominic Smith plays first base.

Hunter also brings playoff experience with him. He went to the World Series in 2010 with the Texas Rangers, and he was on each of Baltimore’s three playoff teams in the 2010s with Showalter. He has pitched well in the postseason as a reliever, not allowing a run in 3.2 innings and four relief appearances with the Orioles.

This signing is more proof the Mets continue to invest in winning baseball

This signing further demonstrates that the Mets front office remains focused on responsible roster construction throughout the season rather than being reactive. Other than Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker, the Mets’ pitching staff has been injury-free, but other injuries are bound to happen as the season progresses.

It would be a good bet that Hunter will pitch for the big-league team given his relationship with Showalter. I would bet Showalter would lean on Hunter in some high leverage situations late in games.

Looking ahead in the Mets schedule, I would look at a stretch in August where the Mets have 15 games against National League East rivals in the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies in a three week span, where Hunter, if available, could be used a lot. Both clubs are figured to be the Mets’ biggest competition in the division, and they each rely on power hitting to score runs, something that can be neutralized with Hunter’s arsenal of pitches.

This signing is small in profile now, but Hunter may be an important piece going forward if, and when, he gets that opportunity.

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