Hanson strikes out 10 in Gwinnett's opener
Heralded prospect has strong outing in Triple-A debut
Tommy Hanson on Opening Day is a bad recipe for rusty hitters.
Hanson, the Atlanta Braves' top prospect, struck out 10 over 4 1/3 shutout innings in his season debut as the visiting Gwinnett Braves earned a 9-1 win over the Charlotte Knights on Thursday.
"I felt good with all my pitches this spring, doing what I wanted to do, and I had decent command with them," Hanson said.
It was the most strikeouts in a game for Hanson since the right-hander fanned a season-high 14 last June 25 against Double-A Birmingham. He started his breakout 2008 season in similar fashion last Opening Day, fanning 13 on April 4 for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. It's been bad news for opposing hitters ever since.
Hanson, ranked the No. 24 best prospect in the Minors by MLB.com last season, competed for a spot in Atlanta's rotation this spring and is expected to get called up this summer. He held the Knights to three hits and two walks, throwing 56 of his 84 pitches for strikes.
The 6-foot-6 righty looked a little rusty himself in the first inning, allowing a one-out single to Eider Torres and walking a pair of batters in between a wild pitch to load the bases. He settled down, striking out Ben Broussard and Josh Kroeger to escape the frame.
"The only inning I'm not happy with was that first inning, walking a couple guys," said Hanson. "I was a little too pumped up going in. I kinda settled in there."
Hanson did not walk another batter and cruised into the fifth inning. He allowed a leadoff triple in the second to Javier Castillo, but struck out the side. He fanned two batters in each of the third and fourth frames before getting Miguel Negron swinging in the fifth to finish his afternoon.
"[Catcher J.C.] Boscan did a great job behind the plate," Hanson said. "He made it easier to go out there and settle down."
Kris Medlen (1-0) struck out four over 3 2/3 perfect innings to pick up the win in relief.
It was the first game -- and victory -- for the Braves since the franchise relocated from Richmond, Va., this offseason.
"Once I found out I was throwing the first game, I was really excited, especially with all our starting pitchers," Hanson said of the five G-Braves hurlers currently on Atlanta's 40-man roster. "Some have already pitched in the big leagues, there's lot of good arms. So I'm happy I got the first one, especially since it's my first game with team."
The Braves gave Hanson a lead in the third when Brandon Jones hit a sacrifice fly and Barbaro Canizares ripped a two-run homer off Major League veteran John Van Benschoten (0-1).
Brooks Conrad added a two-run shot in the sixth and an RBI single in the ninth to put the game further out of reach. Diory Hernandez hit an RBI single in the seventh, and Reid Gorecki roped a two-run double in the eighth for Gwinnett.
Michael Restovich homered in the ninth for Charlotte's lone run.
Hanson established himself as an elite pitching prospect last season, dazzling scouts and team brass between Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. He finished the season a combined 11-5 with a 2.41 ERA in 25 starts, most coming with the M-Braves. He also made a stellar showing in the elite Arizona Fall League, ultimately being named the circuit's Most Valuable Player.
For now, Hanson will get his innings in and prepare for the jump to Atlanta. Gwinnett, playing in a brand-new ballpark in the heart of Braves nation, isn't a bad place to be.
"Hopefully it'll be good [in Gwinnett]," Hanson said of the expected reception from fans this season. "Being close to Atlanta, there's probably going to be a pretty good turnout. It should be fun, I'm definitely looking forward to pitching there."
Hanson lines up to pitch again Tuesday at Durham before his scheduled home debut April 19 against Norfolk and Orioles top prospect Matt Wieters.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.