(Hi folks. I’m ready to live blog off tonight’s Braves game against San Diego. It’s Tim Hudson vs. Clayton Richard. Following is a column I’ve written on Tommy Hanson, who will come off the disabled list after a back injury to start Friday’s game against Los Angeles. Hanson is in the unexpected position of trying to win a spot in the Braves’ five-man rotation down the stretch. The team currently is going with six pitchers.)
If there is one jolting reality about the blur surrounding the Braves’ pitching rotation these days, it’s this: Tommy Hanson is not a clear-cut No. 1. Or 2. Or 3.
This doesn’t mean Hanson is going to struggle over the next two weeks. It certainly doesn’t mean he’s not going to reaffirm his value to the Braves over time, nor that he isn’t destined to have a great career, presumably in Atlanta.
But there are doubts. There was the shoulder injury last year. The back pain this year. There’s the fastball of declining velocity. There’s the fact that he has gone 5 1/3, 4, 5 and 5 innings in his past four starts, and despite a 12-5 record, is carrying the highest ERA (4.29) and opponents’ batting average (.267) of his career.
It doesn’t take long for people to start wondering whether a guy will be, you know, what he is supposed to be. About as long as it takes to type a Tweet?
“I try not to worry about it,” Hanson said Tuesday, three days before he will be activated from the disabled list for Friday’s start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I just worry about myself, keep trying to get better, keep trying to keep my body healthy to perform. Anything after that, there’s no need for me to worry about it because people will say what they’re going to say, and they’re going to have doubts and think that there’s something wrong with me, and they don’t know.”
That said, if the Braves head into the home stretch of a division race without Hanson as a starter, it’s not a good sign for either the team or the player. Hanson is the Braves’ only perceived power pitcher (although not as much now). It wasn’t long ago he was considered the next great thing. Baseball America named him the organization’s No. 1 prospect and baseball’s fourth-best prospect in 2009.
Hanson was called up midway through that season. The Braves drop-kicked franchise legend Tom Glavine into retirement to make room for him on the roster. Talk about symbolism.
Hanson made 21 starts the reason of the season and went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. He struck out 116 in 127 2/3 innings. We bowed.
But the blast off has been limited. In 2010, Hanson pitched with a voodoo doll on his shoulder, going only 10-11, largely because of poor run support (at one point he allowed one or zero runs in five consecutive starts, going 0-2 with three decisions). Last season he was great before the All-Star break (10-4, 2.44), a train wreck after (1-3, 8.10). He eventually was shut down because of shoulder tendinitis.
He recovered before spring training. But his car went on the disabled listed when he crashed it on the way to Disney. Hanson suffered a minor concussion. The Infiniti suffered about $8,000 in damage. Then came the season, which started well but has since tailed off, primarily because of the lost velocity.
The Braves put Hanson on the disabled list, which he was OK with, and then sent him to Gwinnett, which he was not completely OK with. Manager Fredi Gonzalez joked that Hanson was “grumpy” when he delivered the news and the pitcher uttered an obscenity at him and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
Hanson confirmed as much Tuesday (while smiling).
“I wasn’t mad — I just wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “I was expecting to throw in the bullpen the next day. I guess I was more shocked than anything. I was laughing when I said it but I guess I used a curse word. I called him a curse word.”
Hanson said, in retrospect, the Gwinnett start the other night was a good thing. He needed the work before his first Braves start Friday night.
Catcher Brian McCann believes Hanson has been effective this season despite the lost speed, “Obviously he’s not throwing 95 any more. But right now he’s learned how to win with a fastball at 90, a backdoor cutter, a slider down and in.”
Is that enough?
When asked if he’s feeling more pressure to perform and become a member of the rotation, Hanson said, “I just feel like I need to do what I’ve always done and try to help my team win. What happens after that, you know, I’ll do my best and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go from there.”
By Jeff Schultz
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