Orioles send down Hunter and Paulino to add bullpen arms

Right-handers Jason Berken and Stu Pomeranz called up from Norfolk after team's 17-inning game

May 07, 2012|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

A day after lasting just 4 1/3 innings in Sunday's marathon in Boston, right-handed starter Tommy Hunter was sent to Triple-A Norfolk, a move needed to bolster a bullpen that had to pitch 12 2/3 innings in one day.

"I didn't throw well and they had to make a call," said Hunter, who is 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA in six starts. "Unfortunately, it's me, but I'm not mad at anybody. How can I be mad at anybody? If I had thrown better, we wouldn't have had to go 17 innings."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter had to bring in reinforcements for the bullpen, and so Hunter and catcher Ronny Paulino were sent to Norfolk, and the Orioles recalled Jason Berken and purchased the contract of fellow right-hander Stu Pomeranz.

"It was obviously the byproduct of yesterday," Showalter said. "We sent some people out we'd rather not, but obviously we need some arms here and Jason and Stu were best-equipped to give us some innings."

Heading into Sunday's game — in which he allowed eight hits, five earned runs and a grand slam — Hunter had thrown consecutive quality starts, giving up just three earned runs in 13 innings. He has, however, served up nine homers in 36 innings.

"Physically, I'm fine, but mentally …," Hunter said moments after his demotion. "It's upsetting, but you've got to pitch better. You have to pitch better in the big leagues. I've got to keep the ball down."

The 25-year-old Hunter must remain in the minors for at least 10 days before he can return unless the Orioles' suffer a big-league injury that requires a disabled-list stint. So at this point, someone else will have to take Hunter's start Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

One option is Berken if he is not needed in relief. If he is, the Orioles likely would have to bring someone up. Chris Tillman, who is 3-3 with a 5.10 ERA in six games with Norfolk, is on regular turn to pitch Friday. And unlike the other rotation candidates at Triple-A — Dana Eveland, Joel Pineiro and Steve Johnson — Tillman is already on the Orioles' 40-man roster.

"We've already taken some precautions to present the options that we need for that day," Showalter said.

Hunter came into camp in great shape but has had a difficult year so far — limited this spring due to a lower back issue and, last month, by a slightly strained oblique. He also was dealing with an in-grown toenail and had his start pushed back a day in Boston.

"I understand that Tommy had a slight oblique, which he's 100 percent back from now, he had the flu that everybody had, and he had an ingrown toenail, so he went about two weeks without being able to do the strength stuff," Showalter said. "I'm hoping that he can take a breath and get back into the routine he was in when he was as strong as he's been his whole career, as he said, in spring training. And we saw that early in the year, how well he pitched."

When Hunter returns — barring injury — will be based on how he pitches in the minors, Showalter said.

"I didn't make any promises or anything. Tommy knows it's in his court," Showalter said. "Obviously we're going to need a pitcher in his spot, but we'll take it day to day and we'll see where we are when we get there."

Pomeranz has incredible ascent

The 27-year-old Pomeranz was brought into spring camp without an official invite after being claimed off baseball's scrap heap in February. He was used eight times in major-league games this spring, impressing the club with his velocity and control. He then excelled in the minors, not allowing an earned run in 19 innings between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. Regardless, the call-up and his quick progression came as a shock.

"No. I had no idea," said Pomeranz, who allowed just one walk and no hits while striking out 12 in 5 2/3 innings for the Tides. "I was just going to play wherever they sent me and do the best I could. That's all that's in my hands."

A former second-round pick of theSt. Louis Cardinalsin 2003, Pomeranz's career was derailed by injuries and alcoholism. All of that is behind him, he said.

"Absolutely, it's gone," said Pomeranz, the older brother of Colorado Rockies' pitcher Drew Pomeranz. "I have been sober 15 months, I don't drink. I don't do anything. I'm all about baseball right now.

Some Chris Davis redux

Corner infielder Chris Davis said his back was a little sore, but his right arm was fine after throwing two scoreless innings and picking up the win in the Orioles' 9-6 victory Sunday.

Showalter said he was not only impressed by Davis' 91-mph fastball, but his presence on the mound and his quickness to the plate, considering he hadn't pitched since junior college. Because a guy has a strong arm, however, doesn't mean he can throw 90-mph, the manager said.

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