Does Tommy Hunter Possess a "Closer's Mentality"?

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April 17, 2014

The closer's role carries a mystique. Granted, part of that is due to theatrics, the type of aura cultivated by ancillary factors like entrance music and mound mannerisms. Turn off the music and tone down the movements, however, and there's still a belief among baseball men that not just anyone can close.

Go ahead and Google these two words: closer demoted.

Here's a sampling of what you'll find, starting with former Orioles closer Jim Johnson:

A's demote Jim Johnson, their new $10 million closer, after just eight games

Boston closer Bailey gets demoted after blowing another save

Tigers send Bruce Rondon to minors

Demoted Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen is starting at Triple-A

Demoted closer Edward Mujica makes Cardinals’ playoff roster

Jays' Francisco Cordero latest closer to be demoted

Heath Bell demoted from closer's role

Angels closer demoted after one blown save

First, we created the role of the closer; now there's a corollary positionknown as the demoted closer.

I'm envisioning adding the demoted closer to the late innings sequence for relievers: "Okay, we're into the seventh, time for the demoted closer to enter ... We're in the eighth, here comes the set-up man ... And now it's closing time."

It would be a much more involved sequence for a Joe Girardi managed team.

Earlier this week, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez reflected on the closer's role following Philadelphia's bullpen meltdown in the absence of Jonathan Papelobon, who wasn't available after pitching three consecutive games.

"For all those people that say anybody can close the ninth inning, it's a little different animal," Gonzalez said.

Suspend your disbelief about the closer's true value for a moment. What does it take to tame that different animal?  Mariano Rivera, and a host of others, have suggested that, much like an NFL kicker, you need "a short memory" to be an effective closer.

“You have to have a short memory, you have to be able to bounce back when you need to bounce back, and remain focused,” he said when asked the secret to the so-called closer mentality. “I think those tools are more important than your pitches. Because you’re going to fail. Sooner or later, you’re going to fail. And you’re going to face that."

The good news is that new Orioles closer Tommy Hunter seems to possess a short memory.

Hunter suffered his first blown save (although Buck Showalter prefers you don't call it that) of the 2014 season on Saturday.

On Sunday, we learned that Showalter had no concerns about Hunter's psyche following the, um, missed opportunity.

By Wednesday, Hunter was back to saving games. Case closed.

Okay, so it's actually much too early to draw conclusions about Hunter as the O's closer. However, a look at his totals from last season suggests that he can handle a bit of adversity. Tommy goes boom, and then he doesn't.

You'll remember that Hunter took the loss in the Orioles' second game last season after surrendering a ninth inning homer to Matt Joyce. He then compiled a 3-0 record with a 1.63 ERA, one save, nine holds, 31 strikeouts and seven walks in 27 games before blowing a save against Toronto on June 21.

After that June 21 game, he went 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA with two saves, five holds, 11 strikeouts, and three walks in 17 games before blowing a save against Arizona on Aug. 12.

Hunter finished the season by going 3-3 with a 2.63 ERA with one save, seven holds, 25 strikeouts, and three walks in 21 games.

Hunter has shown the ability to "bounce back" and seems to possess a "short memory" following a bad outing. Perhaps he has a "closer's mentality" after all. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we can borrow more cliches to evaluate his suitability as a closer.

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Related aside: This is supposed to be a song about childbirth. Really?

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