Jupiter, Fla. – After excelling with three high-quality pitches as a rookie, Tommy Hanson has improved his fourth, the changeup, to the point where he’s confident throwing it in almost any situation.
This is bad news for hitters.
“It’s a lot better pitch now, and I’m a lot more confident with it,” Hanson said after allowing one run and six hits in five innings of a 4-2 win against the Florida Marlins on Wednesday at Roger Dean Stadium.
He had four strikeouts and no walks and threw 52 strikes in 72 pitches, including about 10 changeups. Hanson struck out National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan on a changeup to start the third inning, part of a span of three consecutive batters he fanned.
“He was really good today,” manager Bobby Cox said after Hanson trimmed his spring training ERA to 1.93 in three starts. “He had the great changeup. He threw it a lot.
“It’s a great weapon. Any time you develop a changeup….”
Hanson already had a mid-90 mph fastball, devastating curveball and good slider, and upgrading his changeup gives the 23-year-old right-hander something softer to keep hitters guessing, particularly left-handers.
He threw it last season, but wasn’t confident throwing it in some situations. Hanson worked on his grip with the pitch during the offseason and this spring, and has seen big improvement.
“It’s a good feeling to know I can get some quick outs with it and use it behind in counts,” said Hanson, who was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts last season as a rookie after being called up from Class AAA in June.
Catcher Brian McCann said Hanson has learned when best to throw certain pitches including the changeup. A key to his success: Consistency of the delivery.
“He throws all his pitches with the same arm speed,” McCann said. “He does everything right. He doesn’t tip any of his pitches, and he throws them all from the same arm slot.”
Hanson led NL rookies in ERA, opponents’ average (.225) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.2). After allowing six earned runs and three homers in his June 7 debut, he won his next four starts and went 11-4 with a 2.59 ERA and seven homers allowed over his next 20.
In his last 11 starts, he had a .210 opponents’ average and 75 strikeouts in 66-2/3 innings.
He missed a rotation turn last week and had to throw four simulated innings in the batting cage because of rain, but Hanson looks sharp.
“I definitely feel like I’m really close,” said the 6-foot-6 redhead. “Today was a confidence boost. I definitely don’t feel like I’m far off from being ready to start the season.”