But with Jair Jurrjens struggling to create confidence and Tim Hudson sidelined for at least another month, the Braves were certainly happy to see Tommy Hanson move closer to normalcy with four solid innings in Wednesday’s 3-2, 10-inning win over the Nationals.
“It’s nice to get something going and get some momentum going,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after watching Hanson limit the Nationals to one hit and an unearned run.
Hanson struggled to command his curveball and felt somewhat uncomfortable when he found himself attempting to use his new delivery for the first time with a runner on second base.
But just 24 hours after seeing Jurrjens produce a fourth consecutive less-than-impressive exhibition start, the Braves were thrilled to see the second-most tenured member of their current rotation produce some encouraging results.
“He’s going to be ready,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He feels good going into his last couple starts. Just by talking to him, in his voice, it seems like he is coming along really well.”
Gonzalez will announce his rotation next week.
Hanson could pitch in the opening series against the Mets. Or, to give him a little more time to prepare, the Braves could choose to hold him until they travel to Houston to play the Astros in the season’s second series.
“I’m hoping he’s up in the front of that rotation,” Gonzalez said. “But we’re not going to push him.”
Hanson might have been the Opening Day starter had he not suffered a concussion in a Feb. 20 one-car accident. The incident delayed him from making his Grapefruit League debut until March 11.
Considering that outing consisted of 1 2/3 innings completed under a heavy rainfall, this was essentially just his second normal start since exiting his Aug. 6 start against the Mets with shoulder discomfort that sidelined him for the final two months of the 2011 season.
The first had occurred on Friday, when he limited the Astros to two runs in three innings.
Building off the confidence he gained during that outing, Hanson cruised through the first two innings of Wednesday’s outing.
His perfect stretch ended when he hit Jesus Flores with a curveball in the third inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved Flores to second base, the Braves pitcher suddenly felt odd as he attempted to use his altered delivery.
“I felt good with runners on first, but when runners got on second, I wasn’t quite sure what to do or how high to lift my (lead leg),” Hanson said. “I got a little shaky, but it was good overall.”
Hanson developed the new delivery in January to lessen stress on his shoulder and to defend against those opposing basestealers who have run without much fear against him in the past.
“I would say it was just a learning experience when that guy is on second,” Hanson said.
“I just need to stay with that same ... just act like there is a runner on first.”
Hanson escaped the third inning without any damage when Danny Espinosa’s two-out liner found first baseman Freddie Freeman’s glove. The unearned run surrendered in the fourth inning came after he hit Ryan Zimmerman with yet another curveball.
Chad Tracy’s one-out single put runners at first and second base, and a passed ball charged to McCann set the stage for Zimmerman to score on Jason Michaels’ groundout.
“With runners on base, I think his mechanics were off just a little bit,” McCann said. “But all and all, I thought he pitched great.”
Hanson will have at least two more exhibition starts in which he will attempt to gain a better feel for his curveball and find comfort while pitching with a runner on second base.
After battling shoulder discomfort most of last year, these are tasks he will gladly accept.
“Each (outing) there are one or two things I need to work on,” Hanson said. “I don’t feel overwhelmed, but I don’t feel like I don’t need to work on anything. There are things I need to work on, and I’m getting more comfortable each time out.”