Armed with smoother mechanics and a sinker, Hanson set for opener

NEW YORK – Tommy Hanson started a postseason game in 2010, so he didn’t bite when someone asked if pitching opening day Thursday against the New York Mets would be comparable to a playoff start. “I don’t think so, to be honest with you,” he said.

He’s also been a top-rated prospect, an up-and-comer who once dominated the Arizona Fall League, a kid who was the talk of baseball at the outset of his rookie season in 2009, and a pitcher who was so good in last season’s first half (10-4, 2.44 ERA) that folks around baseball agreed he deserved to be on the All-Star team, though he wasn’t selected.

In other words, Hanson didn’t just fall off one of the orange trucks from his hometown of Redlands, Calif. He’s been around, seen plenty in his young career, done some things. Pitching opening day at Citi Field against the Mets and Johan Santana isn’t going to overwhelm him or leave him searching for words to describe the significance of the honor.

Especially not now, after the late season of his discontent in 2011 due to a shoulder injury, followed by an offseason of change – in his funky pitching mechanics to reduce the arm stress – and a spring training that began in tumult when he wrecked his car en route to the first workout. He had a Grade 1 concussion that kept him out more than a week.

“After what I went through last year, and even getting the concussion, I’m just glad I can go out and pitch,” Hanson said. “I’m glad I’m getting the first start and I’m healthy. Right now life is good. I want to go out and do well and try to help us win.”

With Tim Hudson rehabbing from back surgery, Hanson gets the opening-day nod over Jair Jurrjens, who struggled in his first four spring starts before finishing with two strong outings, albeit against lackluster Houston split-squad lineups. Jurrjens starts the second game of the season Saturday and left-hander Mike Minor gets the Mets series finale Sunday.

Hanson, 25, will be the youngest Braves pitcher to start opening day since John Smoltz (23) in 1991.

“Tommy deserves it,”  third baseman Chipper Jones said. “We all know Huddy would be the No. 1 if he was healthy, but somebody’s got to go out there and Tommy’s doing well this spring. It’s on him to be the horse until Huddy gets back. Sometimes being thrust into that No. 1 starter role makes a guy turn a corner, and we hope that Tommy is ready to make that next jump towards stardom.”

Braves backup catcher David Ross thinks Hanson could be poised for a step forward for another reason: a two-seam fastball, or sinker, that Hanson unveiled last weekend during his final spring start. Until then his repertoire consisted of four-seam (straight) fastballs, sliders and curveballs with some change-ups sprinkled in.

The sinker could be a game-changer, Ross said.

“He threw a sinker and he threw it really well [Saturday against Detroit],” Ross said. “It’s easier to call a game when you can challenge guys with a fastball with some movement. Guys have to be really fine [with location] with straight, four-seam heaters. If you’re like Huddy [a sinkerballer], you can get a guy in a hitter’s count and throw a two-seamer that’s moving and get a groundball.

“It makes [Hanson] a better pitcher. It makes you be more aggressive because you’re throwing more fastballs and makes the hitter commit more to the heater than just sit on off-speed where he can foul off a straight fastball, that kind of stuff.”

Hanson allowed two runs and five hits in six innings against the Tigers, who had pummeled Braves pitching for 30 runs in the three most-recent spring games between them.

“I mean, finding out that he’ll throw that and has confidence in it, against that [Detroit] lineup,” Ross said. “That’s a good lineup over there. They beat our [rears] every time we threw out a pitcher [previously this spring], so it was nice to have a ball with some movement and see those guys swing over pitches and be in hitter’s counts and miss them, and see the best hitter in the game [Miguel Cabrera] grounding out and getting jammed. That put a smile on my face the way he threw.”

Hanson changed his pitching mechanics this winter to relieve stress on the shoulder and back, after he was diagnosed with a small subsurface tear of his rotator cuff and missed the last seven weeks of the season. He’s not throwing across his body as much now, and the pause he had as his arm came forward has been reduced and relocated, allowing him to use his long legs a little more and not rely on the “all arm” flinging sort of motion he had before.

The change also cut down on his delivery time to the plate while working out of the stretch with runners on. No other pitcher gave up as many stolen bases the past two seasons as Hanson, whose hitch-and-pause motion were a virtual green light for even a mediocre base runner to take off.

Now, to the offseason mechanical change comes an addition – the sinker – that might have an even more immediate and noticeable impact.

“The pitch is the sinker,” Ross said. “His stuff isn’t any better [than before], but all of a sudden he’s putting movement on his fastball, so that makes everything better,” he said. “Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, it’s the cutter [in vogue] now,’ or this and that pitch. But it doesn’t matter how hard you throw, if you throw a four-seam fastball it’s going to get hit. If you throw an 86-mph good sinker, you’re going to compete. It’s hard to hit that, especially early on in spring. We’re trying to figure out how to hit the straight hitter, much less one with some movement.”

Against the Mets, Hanson was 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in six career starts before giving up eight hits, seven runs and career-high four homers in 3-1/3 innings on Aug. 6 at Citi Field. He didn’t pitch again last season, now returns to Citi Field for opening day.

The Braves will start Brandon Beachy on Monday at Houston, then Hanson comes back on regular rest Tuesday before No. 5 starter Randall Delgado makes his season debut in Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros, the sixth game of the season. Jurrjens will start the home opener April 13 against Milwaukee, barring rainouts or other unexpected developments.

“It doesn’t really matter — you could have gone JJ first and Tommy second and then Tommy gets the home opener,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, adding that the Braves were leaning toward Hanson as the opening day starter before his concussion, then had to wait to be sure he would have enough time to get ready after his delayed spring debut.

Hanson did, and for that he credited the offseason work, the reason he’d already thrown six or seven bullpen sessions before spring training began. That’s more mound work than he’d have done in a typical winter, and that base he’d built up allowed him to get through the period of concussion-necessitated inactivity without falling behind.

“I feel like I’m working and everything’s going good,” Hanson said. “That’s the biggest thing for me is I wanted to come to spring training and feel good and not have any setbacks. Then you have the concussion thing – that sucks – but you’ve just got to battle and keep working, and that’s what I did. So I feel like I’m where I need to be now and it’s almost like that stuff didn’t happen.”

“I don’t feel anything in my shoulder. My back’s not bothering me. Obviously my head is fine. So you’ve got to just keep pushing forward.”

47 comments Add your comment

FJR

April 4th, 2012
5:18 pm

Here’s a nice .gif of it against Miguel Cabrera:

http://capitolavenueclub.com/?p=5896

Warhead

April 4th, 2012
5:29 pm

This is great insight from David Ross on Hanson:

“He threw a sinker and he threw it really well [Saturday against Detroit],” Ross said. “It’s easier to call a game when you can challenge guys with a fastball with some movement. Guys have to be really fine [with location] with straight, four-seam heaters. If you’re like Huddy [a sinkerballer], you can get a guy in a hitter’s count and throw a two-seamer that’s moving and get a groundball.

“It makes [Hanson] a better pitcher. It makes you be more aggressive because you’re throwing more fastballs and makes the hitter commit more to the heater than just sit on off-speed where he can foul off a straight fastball, that kind of stuff.”

Hanson allowed two runs and five hits in six innings against the Tigers, who had pummeled Braves pitching for 30 runs in the three most-recent spring games between them.

“I mean, finding out that he’ll throw that and has confidence in it, against that [Detroit] lineup,” Ross said. “That’s a good lineup over there. They beat our [rears] every time we threw out a pitcher [previously this spring], so it was nice to have a ball with some movement and see those guys swing over pitches and be in hitter’s counts and miss them, and see the best hitter in the game [Miguel Cabrera] grounding out and getting jammed. That put a smile on my face the way he threw.”

…. I’ve always been perplexed as to why Hanson has had such a hard time putting away hitters — especially against good lineups. He’d get to 2-2 or 3-2 and then have guys foul off pitch after pitch after pitch, running his pitch count up. He doesn’t have to strike guys out in those counts. A ground ball will do.

If he really does have a sinker, he could take a significant step forward toward being that definite No. 1 he has been billed to be. Pretty scary when you consider how good he’s been when healthy.

I hope this means he’ll be able to go deeper in games too. Braves starters really need to get into the seventh and eighth inning more often.

Monk Nash

April 4th, 2012
5:32 pm

Greene Hornet

April 4th, 2012
5:33 pm

Im glad to hear of his confidence and new pitch. It may seem silly, but I am worried about our starters. They are good, but it seems like their health can be a question mark. I hope they can stay healthy as that I think we will have a decent offense this year. Either way, Go Braves!!!

DS1

April 4th, 2012
5:34 pm

Startin to get that itch again.

Thanks DOB….

Bob the Blogger

April 4th, 2012
5:38 pm

Thanks, Warhead, for re-posting DOB’s article.

Simpson's Homer

April 4th, 2012
5:50 pm

Hmmm…. something’s wrong. This story has been up for over 30 minutes and no moronic negative posting has been made yet!! GO BRAVES!!!

clint

April 4th, 2012
5:55 pm

A new sinker sounds good, but I’m alot more concerned about the bats.

bravesgrl4life

April 4th, 2012
6:21 pm

Anybody have Dish Network and realize that we don’t have Peachtree TV for the beginning of the season?

And this is great news from Tommy. I love that ginger man :)

A Father

April 4th, 2012
6:28 pm

Hope Hanson can return healthy but I believe he will pitch a little be hurt, pitch a little be hure until sometime in the next couple years if that long he has to give it up. Doctors have found a way to fix pitching elbows pretty good, they have not been able to fix a single pitchers shoulder for a major league season. Maybe Hanson can do it but would be totally surprised. If he does well early and we can trade him we should before he will only be a liability because of shoulder problems.

msucurt04

April 4th, 2012
6:38 pm

Thank warhead. I didn’t catch that the first time

nuh uh

April 4th, 2012
7:01 pm

That was a good article. My favorite part was all of it.

- Warhead

Freddy

April 4th, 2012
8:35 pm

Folks watch his motion it’s the same as before braves people don’t care about him or they would have fixed it years ago.. He will b out of baseball in two!

Ralph

April 4th, 2012
9:57 pm

I don’t see much difference in Tommy’s delivery, he still has a pause at the top of his motion but a slightly shorter pause. Last time he pitched against Detroit the first base runner stole second on the 1st pitch with Ross catching, don’t know if it will slow the base runners down or not especially when Mc is behind the plate, I hope it does though.

Ralph

April 4th, 2012
10:00 pm

A Father
April 4th, 2012
6:28 pm

Agree 100%

Bob the Blogger

April 4th, 2012
10:27 pm

I don’t see a lot of difference in Hanson’s delivery, just a little less jerky, but hopefully a little is a lot in terms of stress on his shoulder.

Coach (2012 Fredi's beisbol fandango)

April 4th, 2012
10:53 pm

final assessment of Tommy Hanson……

Completely different pitcher, one who hasn’t been seen before. Giving Tommy a huge advantage against opposing hitters who will have to adjust.

phil

April 4th, 2012
11:40 pm

Let’s see what happens before we wet ourselves with joy…

buster brave

April 5th, 2012
3:24 am

Saddle up,it’s a long ride to October boys and girls !!!

[...] few that I like… – The Atlanta Braves kick off their season tonight in New York. – Do you think it’s time for the US to get rid of the penny? – 59% of [...]

Fats OKelly

April 5th, 2012
6:21 am

On a serious note, at the home opener, I hope the Braves organization pays a special mention to pitcher Dave Shotkoski, who was gunned down in 1995. His killer was released yesterday. See this story in the Sports and Home section. God bless his family.

joe

April 5th, 2012
7:39 am

could have started JJ on opening day? Fredi, are you really that stupid?

john1010

April 5th, 2012
8:03 am

Faith is the evidence of things not seen and by it we can move any mountain.

bill

April 5th, 2012
8:22 am

I am a fool but I got MLBTV just so I could watch the Braves. I will always have faith…I hope not like the Christians in the Circuses of old. Go Braves .

bill

April 5th, 2012
8:23 am

John1010 anything not explained by science is magic

Wutehvah

April 5th, 2012
8:31 am

Gonna need to score a couple early against YoHan… Let’s go Braves!!

bravesgrl4life

April 5th, 2012
8:40 am

Opening Day is finally here :) The long wait is over. And I still don’t have Peachtree. Not resolved by tomorow – I’m ditching Dish.

Taylor Wooten

April 5th, 2012
8:46 am

if is his fastball is no better and no more than 88-89 like it was last saturday vs tigers, braves aint winning this game.

wes covington

April 5th, 2012
8:55 am

Will Francisco play 3rd today?

Morning Reads for Thursday, April 5th

April 5th, 2012
8:57 am

[...] few that I like… – The Atlanta Braves kick off their season tonight in New York. – Do you think it’s time for the US to get rid of the penny? – 59% of [...]

22 Hey Crew .

April 5th, 2012
9:12 am

Predictions
Heyward 2- 4 ; HR 3 RBI
Prado 3-4 2 ; Double
Freeman 2-4 ; HR
Uggla 1-4 ; HR ( Will land in Yankee Stadium )
Bourne ; 3-4 ; 2 SB

Hanson 6 IP; 1 ER

Braves win 6-2

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

April 5th, 2012
9:42 am

Drunky boy gets the strat on openikng day? What does that say about drinkin and drivin? It says its OK 2 drink and drive and wrek UR car cuz U will still get 2 start openin day.

Time 2 fire that loosing managar if this is the mesage he sneds 2 kids.

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

April 5th, 2012
9:56 am

Hey Mr O’Brain….What UR over/under on the number of games Chiper will play in at?

I say 60 and go with the under

nuh uh

April 5th, 2012
10:11 am

Hanson didn’t wreck because he was drinking. He wrecked because the bird living in his beard starting pecking at his eyes.

I think maybe you’ve been drinking… If you right click on the red line under half of your words it will tell you how to spell them.

ncbravesfan

April 5th, 2012
10:17 am

Win or lose today (but hopefully win) here’s what I would like to see

Tommy Hanson go at least six innings (but not by throwing 120 pitches)
Michael Bourn wreak havoc on the basepaths
Solid AB’s from Heyward
Good defense from Pastornicky

To me, those would all be good signs. Of course, being 1-0 would be great, too.

Go Braves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

therut

April 5th, 2012
10:28 am

22 Hey Crew-Heyward 2 for four, HR-3 rbis-How about 0 for four with three strikeouts? I’ll be watching!

johnny boy

April 5th, 2012
10:59 am

Glad its finally opening day… time to get last years collapse behind us.
Go Braves!

Kendra

April 5th, 2012
12:02 pm

Martin Prado is at third. Line up:

Bourn
Prado
McCann
Uggla
Freeman
Diaz
Heyward
Pastornicky
Hanson

Loosing Managar = Loosing Record

April 5th, 2012
12:51 pm

Enter your comments here

m. free

April 5th, 2012
4:10 pm

going to be a long year. again no offense

Nelson

April 5th, 2012
4:12 pm

Same Channel
Same old Movie
Same old Braves
It’s going to be fun to watch, sure Wren?

Braveslog

April 5th, 2012
5:21 pm

Hanson looked good today, and Medlen was solid. Just gotta get the bats going! More on the game here:
http://braveslog.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/braves-fall-to-mets-1-0-in-season-opener/

space monkey

April 5th, 2012
6:24 pm

Did Hanson throw a sinker? I saw a lot of slow fastballs and big curves.

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