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Finally healthy, Hunter 'ready to roll'

Reliever tosses clean 8th in Sunday's 11-inning win
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The sun was out. The air was warm. And Tommy Hunter -- headband wrapped around his head -- bounced up the steps of the dugout at Citizens Bank Park Sunday morning like a kid on Christmas morning, looking for someone to throw with.

After three weeks, this was his Opening Day. And the 31-year-old reliever was eager to get going after three weeks on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain suffered at the end of Spring Training.

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PHILADELPHIA -- The sun was out. The air was warm. And Tommy Hunter -- headband wrapped around his head -- bounced up the steps of the dugout at Citizens Bank Park Sunday morning like a kid on Christmas morning, looking for someone to throw with.

After three weeks, this was his Opening Day. And the 31-year-old reliever was eager to get going after three weeks on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain suffered at the end of Spring Training.

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"I'm feeling good," Hunter said. "I'm ready to roll and help out a little bit."

Hunter replaced left-hander Hoby Milner, who was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after Saturday's 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hunter looked impressive in his first outing of the season, needing only eight pitches to get through a clean eighth inning during the Phillies' 3-2, 11-inning win over the Pirates Sunday afternoon. He also struck out out Gregory Polanco.

"Tommy came in throwing his cutter to Polanco," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "It looked great."

The return of Hunter comes after two scoreless rehab appearances for Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading, in which he allowed a hit and a walk in 2 1/3 innings with three strikeouts.

"The hamstring is ready to go and I'm ready to roll," Hunter said. "I wouldn't come back if I wasn't ready to go. It's feeling good and I'm ready."

Hunter signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the Phillies during the offseason to help bolster the back end of the bullpen along with fellow vet Pat Neshek, who continues to rehab from a right shoulder strain.

Philadelphia's bullpen has been effective in their absence. It has posted a 3.13 ERA after Sunday's 4 2/3 inning outing. The Phillies 1.15 WHIP out of the bullpen is fourth in the National League and seventh overall in baseball.

Fitting Hunter back into the mix could make for a little bit of a challenge for Kapler -- especially with strong showings from Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano in front of Hector Neris closing.

"I think [they are] relievers we can go to that have [performed well in high leverage situations]" Kapler said. "We have [Luis Garcia], [Adam Morgan] and Neris as the guys coming out of camp who we knew were going to perform in those situations. Now you have Hunter coming back. You've got [Neshek] not that far away. And you have [Yacksel Rios], Arano and Ramos performing like this. It's very encouraging."

However, Hunter said that he comes back into a very good spot.

"Winning solves everything," Hunter said. "These guys are winning and everyone is doing their job. Hopefully, I can just fall in line and be a good little puppet."

Earth Day celebration
There may not be a better patch of earth in Philadelphia than the green grass and finely manicured landscapes around Citizens Bank Park.

On Earth Day, the Phillies continued to encourage global conservation with their Red Goes Green program, which works in partnership with Aramark and Spectra.

The club has offset its carbon footprint of power usage at Citizens Bank Park by purchasing 20 million kilowatt hours of Renewable Energy Credits that match its power output with wind and solar generation at the Keystone Solar Project in Lancaster County, Pa. There are also members of the Red Goes Green team -- presented by Waste Management -- that collect cans and bottles throughout the seating bowl during the game. This also falls in line with the donation to local shelters and soup kitchens of food that has been prepared, but not sold at the ballpark.

Kevin Cooney is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies, Tommy Hunter