TORONTO — — The news caught few by surprise, especially Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter.
Hunter, who this spring competed for the club's Opening Day starter spot, was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk as one of four pre-game roster moves Tuesday. The Orioles also optioned rookie outfielder Xavier Avery to Norfolk while activating outfielder Endy Chavez from the disabled list and purchasing the contract of right-hander Miguel Gonzalez from Norfolk.
Hunter, who is 2-3 with a 5.59 ERA in ten starts this season, has fought to find his fastball command throughout the season, leaving too many balls up in the zone. He's allowed 13 home runs, tied for second most in the majors. His three-inning, six-run outing on Monday, the shortest by an Orioles starter this season, marked his fifth start in 10 this season in which he's allowed five or more runs.
"It's just something you've got to get right and you go from there," said Hunter, who was leaving Toronto to join Norfolk Tuesday night. "It's pretty obvious that a decision had to be made and you know, it was definitely something you could see coming."
It may be the right time to send Hunter down. He's obviously struggling and off days on Thursday and Monday allow the Orioles to go with a four-man rotation until June 9.
But Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Hunter has plenty to work on, above all his fastball command.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that if you go down and pitch well there that it necessarily means 'X' is going to happen if and when you come back," Showalter said. "It was a good move to serve the needs of our club and we had room on the roster.
"You know [Hunter's] pitched some good innings and some good games for us. There just hasn't been that consistency level and he's making a lot of mistakes with his fastball. We thought, with the off days, it's a good opportunity to see if he can regain it back at that level."
Hunter will have his between-start workout day Wednesday and is slated to start for Norfolk on Saturday.
"I've been throwing like [garbage]," Hunter said. "I've been throwing pretty bad. I haven't been throwing well. I need to go down and clean it up so I can come back and throw the way I should be, the way I know how to throw.
"It's all about the fastball down and away," Hunter added. "It's about throwing the fastball where you want it to go and once you do that you're going to start winning ballgames and giving your team a chance to win. Hopefully, I'll figure it out quick."
Dream come true for Gonzalez
The long road through the minor leagues finally paid off for Gonzalez, the new reliever.
Gonzalez, signed by the Orioles this offseason as a minor-league free agent, joined the club Tuesday after his contract was purchased from Triple-A Norfolk.
He entered the season with just one outing at the Triple-A level in his career, but his play for Mexico in the Caribbean Series this offseason caught the eye of new Orioles international director of baseball recruiting Fred Ferreira.
This season with Norfolk, Gonzalez has been stellar, going 2-1 with a save and a 1.50 ERA in 11 outings. He has 36 strikeouts in 30 innings and has allowed just 10 hits in that span.
A former Rule 5 pick of the Red Sox, Gonzalez was out of baseball for two years because of injury, including one year he missed with Tommy John surgery.
"All the hard work I did in the past when I had Tommy John, it's paid off," Gonzalez said. "I'm pretty excited to be here. I'm just speechless right now. Dreams do come true. I'm happy to be here."
Gonzalez said being able to throw his curveball and splitter for strikes in any count has helped him this season. Gonzalez, who made three starts at Norfolk, will work out of the bullpen for now, Showalter said.
"He's been impressive down there with his command," Showalter said.
Avery sent down to hone skills
Another casualty of Tuesday's roster moves was rookie outfielder Xavier Avery, who provided an instant spark to the Orioles lineup but was mired in a 3-for-30 slump.
Showalter said the organization wants to see Avery get back to working counts like he did when he first arrived in Baltimore and show a willingness to take breaking balls the other way.
"He got a little pull-conscious here and that makes him so susceptible to the breaking ball," Showalter said. "He doesn't have to do that. He can let the ball travel. He's got athletic skills and he gave us some juice. You can see why we're excited about him."
"I like the fact that he came in here and let it rip and was aggressive and was pretty selective for a while," Showalter added. "I just want him to get back, talking to him today, to trust himself and get back to the things that made everyone excited about him like we still are. I feel as good about him the day I sent him out as I did before. He's got a future."
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