As major league debuts go, Tommy Hanson couldn’t quite slide in through the back door.
Tales of his minor-league starts seemed like mythology. Sounds of fans screaming his name had been echoing in the blogosphere since spring training. Then the Braves suddenly decided to drop Tom Glavine through a trap door, the Bat Phone rang in Gwinnett and trumpets started blaring.
You half-expected Hanson to be delivered onto the pitcher’s mound by helicopter Sunday.
There’s a downside to this. It makes for a louder crash.
For the first three innings, Hanson showed he could be baseball’s next dominant pitcher. For the next three, he reaffirmed there will be a learning curve before he gets there. When he left after the sixth, he trailed, 7-5. Only an unlikely Braves’ offensive explosion – and he better not get used to that – salvaged a no-decision for him in the team’s 8-7 win over Milwaukee at Turner Field.
“Frustrated,” Hanson said when asked how he felt walking off the mound after the Brewers’ two-homer, four-run sixth inning, which figured to be his last. “I felt like my command of the fastball was totally different than it had been. But that’s just the first one. It’s totally behind me right now.”
It’s almost unfair when expectations are so high. Couple the buildup with Glavine’s release, a large home crowd and family and friends in attendance, Hanson could’ve been excused if he spontaneously combusted before his first pitch.
To his credit, he didn’t. He retired the first 10 Milwaukee batters. He struck out the side in the second. He had a 2-0 lead in the fourth. It looked like he was still pitching in Gwinnett, where he was 3-0 with a 1.18 ERA and 61 strikeouts over his last seven starts.
But, hey, as general manager Frank Wren told us when he tried to justify Glavine’s release, you just can’t go by stats in the minors. (Yeah. I had to get that in.)
The first time through the order, the Brewers looked mesmerized. The second time through, they looked like somebody other than Syracuse or Toledo or Durham. (After 10 straight outs, eight of the next 13 batters reached base and seven scored, three with home runs.)
Welcome to north of Triple-A, kid.
Hanson said he wasn’t nervous, just “excited.” He said he wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment. He said he just threw too many fastballs over the plate. At 95 miles per hour, you can get away with that in the International League. Not so much in the just domestic National.
J.J. Hardy was the first Brewer to reach base, via Yunel Escobar’s fielding error. Ryan Braun was the first to get a hit – and it traveled 382 feet over the left-field wall.
It got worse. Milwaukee pitcher Manny Parra, batting .059 as he stepped to the plate in the fifth, slapped a run-scoring double to right. Braun and Mike Cameron each slammed two-run homers in the sixth.
In the end, Hanson allowed only six hits. The problem was, three landed in Midtown.
His summary: “A couple of times, the fastball just went where I didn’t want it to go.”
Manager Bobby Cox was impressed with his “stuff.” Pitching coach Roger McDowell was impressed with his composure (“He looked the same after he gave up the home runs as he did when he struck out the side.”)
Hanson: “There was some good and some bad, obviously.”
He turned his cell phone off Saturday night. He didn’t turn it back on until after the game.
“I’ve got a ton of messages,” he said.
Next time, expect a quieter entrance. Reality checks will do that.