Port St. Lucie, Fla. – When Tommy Hanson faced the Mets at Tradition Field last spring, he was a hotshot Braves prospect still learning the ropes, trying to make a good impression.
He struggled with his fastball and surrendered a two-run homer to Fernando Tatis.
Flash forward to Tuesday, when Hanson returned as a key member of a strong Braves rotation – a pitcher simply preparing for the season, not a kid trying to figure out the best way to win a major league job.
Hanson said he remembered that game against the Mets last spring.
“I kind of lost my command a little bit, trying to be too fine,” said the right-hander, who didn’t have that problem in Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener. “All I wanted to do today was come out and throw strikes. Get in the strike zone and get comfortable out there. And I felt like I did that.
“Actually it went better than I expected.”
After Jesus Feliciano’s first-inning leadoff single, Hanson struck out the next two batters and retired six in a row. The lanky right-hander was charged with one hit, no walks and three strikeouts in two innings of a 4-2 Braves loss, and threw 17 strikes in 27 pitches.
“Early in camp you’re just trying to find the zone,” catcher Brian McCann said. “He located his pitches in the zone and pitched great.”
The Braves are counting a lot on Hanson, who was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie after being called from Class AAA at the beginning of June.
Hanson doesn’t consider himself a strikeout pitcher despite totaling 206 in 194 innings last season, including 116 strikeouts in 127-2/3 innings in the majors.
He finished strong in the longest season of his professional career, posting a 2.41 ERA and 47 strikeouts with 14 walks in 41 innings over his last seven starts.
But strikeouts aren’t always by design. Take Tuesday, for instance.
“I think that was just a result of what happened,” he said. “That first inning I was throwing more pitches than I wanted to, getting deep in counts. I was trying not to do that, but I felt good with the pitches I got them out on. The pitches I got them out on were all quality pitches.”
He was especially pleased with his slider, which he said was the best it’s been since camp began, but also liked his curveball and the only changeup he threw.
“All my secondary pitches were really good,” Hanson said. “I’d say half of my fastballs were right where I wanted them. Just have to keep working on my fastball command. I feel like I’m close.”