Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter continues to struggle
ARLINGTON, Texas Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter experienced a hard fact of baseball life on Sunday night.
If a pitcher keeps hitting opponents’ bats, something bad will happen to him sooner or later.
For the third consecutive postseason start, Hunter failed to go beyond the fourth inning. That he allowed only two runs in four innings during the 4-0 loss to San Francisco in Game 4 of the World Series was remarkable.
Hunter threw 83 pitches. He missed a bat on only two of them. Hunter got his only swing-and-misses against the last batter faced: No. 9 hitter Nate Schierholtz.
The rest of the time, the Giants hit liners all over Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. San Francisco put the leadoff hitter on base in each of the first three innings. The Giants had six at-bats with runners in scoring position in that span.
Hunter could not finish off hitters. He had two strikes in the count to nine of the 18 hitters faced. Of those nine hitters, only one struck out, and three others reached on base hits. The Giants threw in the extra aggravation of 21 foul balls.
“They battled up there,” Hunter said. “You keep throwing the ball up there and hope they put it in play. When they did, it found a hole.
Andres Torres, the reborn former Ranger, had the most damaging hit with two strikes in the count.
Leading off the third, Torres fell behind 1-2 against Hunter. Torres fouled off three of the next four pitches before doubling.
Freddy Sanchez followed and fouled off five consecutive pitches from a 0-2 count before grounding out on a 1-2 pitch. Hunter, with 17 pitches already thrown in the inning, was spent. He tried to get a first-pitch “cut” fastball in on the hands of Aubrey Huff but lacked the velocity to make a good pitch. It hung high in the happy zone for Huff, who drove it 404 feet for a two-run homer.
Hunter said the long and frustrating matchups with Torres and Sanchez did not affect him against Huff.
“The ball spun up there instead of doing what it was supposed to do,” Hunter said.
In his previous two starts, Hunter had 12 strikeouts in 71/3 innings. Hunter admitted that was more of a mirage. He is not now, never has been and never will be a strikeout pitcher. He depends on the good fortunate of having balls hit at fielders.
“Maybe the last two were a fluke, and this is what it’s supposed to be like,” Hunter said.
In the playoffs, pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff take control. That helps explain why Hunter turned into just what the bullpen-depleted Rangers did not need: a short starter.
In Hunter’s three post-season starts, the bullpen had more innings than he did. Hunter pitched 111/3 innings. The bullpen had to pick up 152/3 innings in his wake.
The Rangers lost two of Hunter’s three postseason starts. They needed 10 runs to get the only win, against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Opponents have hit .320 for 50 at-bats against Hunter.
“It’s been pretty adverse,” Hunter said of his playoff experience. “It’s been tough. When you don’t go out and do what you’re supposed to do, it’s going to be tough.”
It’s harder when the pitcher cannot miss the bats.
Ian Kinsler, the Rangers’ No. 6 hitter, batted as the tying runner with two outs in the seventh inning.
In two previous plate appearances against starter Madison Bumgarner, Kinsler walked and hit a sinking liner that left fielder Cody Ross grabbed on a tumbling shoe-top catch. Giants manager Bruce Bochy stayed with Bumgarner, a left-hander, against Kinsler, a right-handed hitter.
Kinsler again flied out to left, but the chance was not nearly as difficult for Ross. Kinsler is 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position for the Series and 3-for-13 in the postseason.