LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – This was a good day for Tommy Hanson. He jogged, and his head didn’t explode. He played catch, and his shoulder didn’t throb. His car – still not so good. It remains on the disabled list. But relief is on the way.
“I bought a truck – so if something else happens I should be OK,” the Braves’ pitcher said, managing a smile.
Would you like to own a 2007 Infinity M45? If you order the CarFax, you’ll find it was in a significant accident in February of 2012. But the current owner is taking care of all repairs, and he says he can be talked into a few incentives to close the deal, maybe even a signed ball or a jersey.
“They said repairs are going to be at least $8,000,” said Hanson, believed to be the first Brave in history to arrive at spring training via tow truck. “The car’s pretty messed up. I’m going to sell it.
“If you know anybody who wants to buy it, tell them to contact me. They can buy, ‘The concussion car.’”
A little joke. It’s some indication Hanson has phased up in the healing process.
It has been a tough several months. This is a guy who could and should be the ace of the Braves’ starting rotation, more sooner than later. He is a power pitcher with a drop-off-the-table curve ball. Competitive, aggressive, desirous of being the best.
“I want to be the ace,” he said.
He is that important to this team.
Health and a blown tire are throwing up obstacles. Hanson went 10-5 with a 2.44 earned run average before the All-Star break. But shoulder pain that actually began in late May worsened. He made only five starts in the second half (1-3, 8.10) before shutting it down in August. He was understandably concerned.
“When you’re a pitcher, your arm is your livelihood,” he said.
When you’re a power pitcher at the age of 25 and have had less than three full seasons in the majors, shoulder pain is like having transmission problems before you’ve even rotated the tires.
It would be one thing if Hanson’s talent suggested an obvious ceiling. It doesn’t. This isn’t the same kid whom the Braves drafted in the 22nd round – 677th overall – in 2005. The team didn’t even sign him right away. They played the then-available draft-and-follow card, which allowed the organization to retain his draft rights for a year while watching him play at Riverside (Calif.) Community College.
“I knew they weren’t going to sign me after the draft,” Hanson said. “So when I got drafted, I know it was supposed to be a big deal, but it really wasn’t.”
The Braves were impressed after a season. So in 2006, they gave him a contract with a $325,000 signing bonus. The California kid, by way of Tulsa, was thrilled. He went shopping. Guess what his first purchase was?
“I bought a car – yeah, that car,” he said. “Well, I bought a car and a bed, but the car was the big thing. My cousin came with me to test drive cars. The funny thing was, they all thought he was the one buying it since I was only 19 and he was like 28.”
Hanson’s Infinity never made it to camp last Monday. He said the car blew a tire, causing him to lose control. It skidded down an embankment and into a field about 90 feet before coming to a stop. Hanson banged his head and suffered a concussion. His camp: pushed back at least a week. He jogged for the first time Sunday. Three writers and two camera crews were in attendance. (”I’ve never had so much attention for running before.”) He threw lightly for 10 minutes. In a few days, he may throw off a mound.
But this delay is troublesome. Hanson is coming off a minor tear in his rotator cuff. He is changing his delivery, removing the hitch that is believed to have contributed to extra stress on the shoulder. He needs the work.
“I’m trying to take the positives out of all this,” he said.
“It could’ve been a lot worse. I could’ve really been hurt. I was scared. I think everybody who saw me when I walked in knew how I felt. I looked rattled.”
The Braves don’t believe Hanson’s delivery change will be a major adjustment. Tim Hudson called it “a tweak.” He said of Hanson’s old delivery, “It was kind of odd looking. But then you saw the ball explode out of his hand, and it was like. ‘Who cares?’”
The Braves need that pitcher again. Hanson believes he’ll get there before long. The room has stopped spinning and he’s moving on. He has a new delivery and a new vehicle — and he’ll cut you a deal on the old one.
By Jeff Schultz