Tommy Hunter made his first appearance of the 2022 Major League Baseball season on Sunday by pitching 1.2 innings of relief in the New York Mets’ 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins.
The outing did not seem possible a year ago, and it allowed Hunter to become the first Alabama alumnus to pitch in 15 MLB seasons.
Hunter had not pitched since May 18, 2021, when a back ailment sidelined him. Multiple surgeries followed to fix six herniations in his back.
“I had no idea that you could be in that much pain,” Hunter said.
But by February, the right-hander felt better. He returned to training and, in April, signed a minor-league deal with the Mets. Hunter worked in eight games for Triple-A Syracuse before New York called him up.
When Hunter arrived on Friday, Mets manager Buck Showalter told him he would be fined for being late.
“I am late to the season,” Hunter said. “The season started a couple of months ago.”
Before Sunday, Hunter had been one of three Alabama alumni to pitch in 14 MLB seasons, along with current Chicago Cubs closer to David Robertson and Al Worthington.
Robertson and Hunter were teammates at Alabama in 2006 and reached the big leagues in the same season – 2008 – but Robertson missed the 2020 campaign because of an arm injury.
Worthington worked in 14 seasons between 1953 and 1969 – the first six with the New York / San Francisco Giants and the final six with the Minnesota Twins.
Robertson and Worthington have the most MLB saves among Alabama’s alumni. Robertson has 145, and Worthington had 111.
Hunter is the third Crimson Tide alumnus to appear in at least 15 MLB seasons. Catcher Luke Sewell played in 20 seasons from 1921 through 1942, and third baseman / first baseman Dave Magadan played in 16 from 1986 through 2001.
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Hunter was a first-round draft choice of the Texas Rangers in 2007, and he reached the big leagues the next season.
Hunter began his MLB career as a starter. In 2010, he had the best winning percentage in the American League when he posted a 13-4 record for the Rangers. He converted to the bullpen in 2012.
On Sunday, Hunter struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. In the ninth, a throwing error put a runner on base and another reliever gave up a two-out hit to knock him in, putting an unearned run on Hunter’s ledger.
“It’s a good start for Tommy,” Showalter said. “I’m trying to pick the right spot to kind of get him there, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t always set up perfect. But we were still in that game. Tommy, he ain’t scared. …
“That’s what Tommy’s here to do. He’s going to come in and for the most part throw it over and have some different looks. He’s been pitching some two-inning stints down there just about every time out trying to prepare him for this. Hopefully, Tommy’s got some of the health issues he’s had in the past behind him, and he can be a contributor, especially if we have to get down to 13 pitchers tomorrow. ”
Showalter also served as Hunter’s manager with the Baltimore Orioles from 2011 through 2016.
Hunter’s appearance on Sunday was his 477th career game. He has a 56-45 record with a 4.04 earned-run average and 22 saves. In 873 innings, Hunter has struck out 599.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.