Hanson continues to prove he belongs
Sensational rookie helps Braves shut down Yanks in opener
ATLANTA -- When the battle was complete, Tommy Hanson admitted that his first opportunity to stare directly at the Yankees pinstripes created an added adrenaline rush. While doing so, he displayed the same calm demeanor that has allowed him to create the impression that escaping jams is routine.
Through the first four starts of his career, Hanson still hasn't experienced that dominant outing that could prove to be commonplace as he matures. But as the Yankees learned during the 4-0 loss they suffered against the Braves at Turner Field on Tuesday night, the 22-year-old right-hander already has the knack to drive opponents crazy with regular doses of frustration.
"I was pretty pumped up," Hanson said. "I felt like I made some good pitches, and I felt like I made some not-so-good pitches. I definitely battled the whole game. It just feels good to come out of here with a win."
With the contributions made by Hanson, Peter Moylan, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, the Braves began this 10-game homestand with a second consecutive shutout victory. The majority of the offensive contributions came courtesy of the three-run third inning, during which Brian McCann and Garret Anderson provided consecutive two-out doubles off Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang.
"Our club is capable of throwing shutouts," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team hadn't produced back-to-back shutouts since June 21-22, 2005. "We've had good starting performances all year long."
While it has proven to be the team's backbone throughout the season, there's no doubt that the starting rotation was significantly enhanced on June 7, when Hanson was promoted to make his Major League debut. The Braves have won each of the four games that he's started, and in the process, the 6-foot-6 hurler has gone 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA.
These numbers simply provide the results of a teasing trend that Hanson prolonged while pitching around five walks and keeping the Yankees scoreless over 5 1/3 innings. He escaped two bases-loaded situations and stranded nine runners during the five innings that he finished.
"That's the sign of a pretty good pitcher," Cox said of Hanson, who has held opponents scoreless over his past 15 2/3 innings. "You get in those types of jams and you don't panic. You end up making a great pitch to get a hitter out."
Hanson's most impressive escape act occurred after Derek Jeter opened the third inning with a double. Two batters later with runners at first and second and one out, the determined Braves rookie hurler struck out Alex Rodriguez and then ended the frame with Robinson Cano's fly ball to left.
|"I was pretty pumped up. I felt like I made some good pitches, and I felt like I made some not-so-good pitches. I definitely battled the whole game. It just feels good to come out of here with a win."|
|-- Tommy Hanson|
One inning later, Hanson left the bases loaded when shortstop Yunel Escobar grabbed Nick Swisher's sharp grounder and flipped it to second base. The Yankees ended up going hitless in the six at-bats they recorded with runners in scoring position against this phenom, whom many have tabbed the game's top pitching prospect.
"I think those situations just make me bear down a little more," Hanson said. "I take pride in when I do get runners on base, I don't want to let them score. I just focus, and I've been doing that my whole career."
While Hanson was referring to his professional career, he could have easily been describing the early stages of his Major League career. On the way to winning his past three starts, he's stranded 25 runners in the 16 innings that he's finished and limited opponents to just two hits in 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
The primary reason that Hanson has routinely been tested in potentially damaging situations stems from the fact that he's issued 14 walks during the 17 innings that have encompassed his past three starts.
"If he walks a couple guys here and there, he's got stuff to get out of it," said McCann, who added an insurance run with an eighth-inning homer. "He's never lost his composure. He's a special player."
Hanson was the seventh straight starting pitcher the Yankees faced for the first time, and it is a span in which they have gone 2-5, including 1-4 in the past five games.
"I don't necessarily think that's an excuse," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "If you get a good pitch to hit, our guys are going to hit it. I don't think that really has a whole lot to do with it. When you start making excuses, that's when you really get in trouble."
Hanson's efforts were preserved by Moylan, who entered Tuesday's sixth inning with runners on first and second and one out. Three pitches later, Jeter grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Having gained knowledge of the Yankees' mystique while following them via the Internet in his native Australia, Moylan reacted to the double play with a slight fist pump that he regretted after he viewed his reaction in the video room.
"Moylan, I can't say enough, getting a double play on a hitter like Jeter," Cox said.
After Moylan provided a perfect seventh inning, Gonzalez followed suit in the eighth to set the stage for Soriano, who worked a scoreless ninth for the second successive night.
Looking toward this 10-game homestand, which will include three-game sets against the Red Sox and Phillies when this series concludes, there was definitely reason for the Braves to wonder if this stretch would define their season.
Two games into this daunting stretch, they find themselves with a sense of confidence that has been absent most of this season.
"I feel like our best baseball is ahead of us," McCann said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.