LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Tommy Hanson’s spring training was a wreck (literally) at the beginning, but impressive in the middle and satisfying at the end. On Saturday the right-hander was named the Braves’ opening day starter.
“I’m real excited — it’s a huge honor,” said Hanson, who was told by manager Fredi Gonzalez on Saturday morning, a few hours before his final Grapefruit League start against Detroit. “I wasn’t really expecting it, so when I found out I was really excited and I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s a pretty big deal.”
He allowed five hits and two runs in six innings of a rain-shortened 2-1 loss to the Tigers, and was pleased with the progress of the sinker he’s worked on and threw extensively for the first time in a game. Hanson had no walks and one strikeout, threw 52 strikes in 80 pitches, and will finish the spring with a 2.77 ERA in three official starts.
“All through camp I felt good,” he said. “Today I was working a lot on two-seamers [sinkers] and I felt really good with that. Just throwing another pitch into my arsenal. All my pitches feel really good. I feel like I’m ready for the season.”
He will start the season opener Thursday against the Mets at New York and be followed in the Braves rotation by Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy, with either Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran expected to be named the fifth starter before the Braves break camp Monday.
Barring rainouts or unexpected developments, Jurrjens is in line to start the April 13 home opener vs. Milwaukee. Jurrjens is 2-2 with a 5.81 ERA in six spring starts, including 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his past two.
“I actually didn’t expect to start opening day; I thought JJ [Jurrjens] would,” Hanson said. “But either way, JJ’s going to get the home opener so that’s pretty cool, too.”
Gonzalez said he went with Minor in the third spot because he wanted the Braves’ only left-handed starter to pitch in the opening three-game series against a Mets lineup that will likely have three or four left-handed hitters.
Teheran’s final spring start is Sunday against the Phillies. Neither he nor Delgado has excelled this spring — Teheran has a 9.00 ERA and .345 opponents’ average in four games (two starts) and Delgado is 1-4 with a 7.89 ERA and .308 opponents’ average in six games (five starts).
Kris Medlen (0.82 ERA) has outperformed both rookies, but the Braves are planning on Medlen in the bullpen, where they have a greater need than expected after Arodys Vizcaino had season-ending elbow surgery and others have either underperformed and/or been injured.
The fifth starter should be needed for only three or four starts before veteran Tim Hudson returns as soon as the last week of April. He’s recovering from back surgery and will make his spring debut Monday against the Mets in the Grapefruit League finale (he’ll start and pitch two innings)
After missing time with a Grade 1 concussion, Hanson had three official Grapefruit League starts, had one other rained out in the second inning, and pitched five innings of two-hit ball Monday in a minor league game on the Braves’ day off.
“He’s pitched good,” said Gonzalez, who waited longer than usual to announce an opening day starter. “We were kind of leaning that way [Hanson] the whole time before spring [training] started.”
The Braves waited to make sure Hanson had time to get ready after he missed more than a week recovering from a concussion sustained in a one-car accident Feb. 20 while driving to the first day of spring training.
His March 11 spring debut was rain-soaked and called before he recorded an out in the second inning, so Hanson’s official first start wasn’t until March 16, when he gave up two runs in three innings against Houston.
He made big strides from there, limiting the Nationals to one hit and one walk in four innings on March 21 and pitching five strong innings on Monday against the Astros’ Triple-A lineup.