Texas adds Hanson to deepening mound mix
After season of ups, downs, Hanson hopes to start 2014 as part of rotation
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have signed free-agent pitcher Tommy Hanson to a one-year contract, hoping he can come back from a difficult 2013 season and return to the high level he pitched at with the Braves during his first years in the Major Leagues.
Hanson, who agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract plus incentives, will come to camp and compete for a spot in the Rangers' rotation. If he pitches the way he did for the Braves from 2009-11, he is going to be a serious candidate. But he still has to win a job.
"Competition pushes people," Hanson said. "I'm going to go in there, whether I have a job or don't, and do the best I can to get ready for the season. Competition will only motivate me. There were quite a few [teams] interested, but I left that to my agent. The Rangers have a great team, and we felt it was the best step for me to be able to go in there, make the rotation and be a big part of the team."
The Rangers enter Spring Training with a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. Derek Holland was supposed to be part of that rotation until he had micro-fracture surgery on his left knee in January. He is expected to be out until mid-season.
With Harrison and Ogando coming off injuries as well, the Rangers have been trying to assemble as much depth as possible. Hanson will compete for a spot in the rotation along with right-handers Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch and left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman.
"We have a lot of guys we like," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Admittedly a number of them have question marks coming off last year. I feel like we're going to have a lot of winning pieces; it will be a challenge to start sorting through them and make those decisions in Spring Training. We've got some guys, when they are right, they are legitimate winning pieces."
Hanson spent last season with the Angels after being acquired from the Braves for reliever Jordan Walden. Hanson started the season in the Angels' rotation and was 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA in his first three starts, including a victory over the Rangers in his first outing.
Hanson then experienced the death of his younger brother and was placed on the Bereavement List on April 22. He made two more starts, then was placed on the restricted list to give him more time to deal with a deep personal loss.
Hanson returned at the end of May and made four starts before going on the disabled list on June 21 with a strained right forearm. When he returned in July, he was still pitching poorly and ended up being optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake City. He made two token relief appearances in September, including three scoreless innings against the Rangers, and he ended the season with a 4-3 record and a 5.42 ERA.
"It was just up and down from the get-go," Hanson said. "I came out of Spring Training feeling good. I had the passing of my brother, and from there it was up and down all year. It was a tough year obviously. I'm glad it's in the past. I'm looking forward to doing better this year.
"I think it's a time issue. Mentally, I don't think I was where I needed to be. It was not just me. The whole family was dealing with it. It's hard to see your family suffering. It was difficult. But I feel like I'm in a lot better place than I was last year."
Hanson was originally a 22nd-round pick by the Braves in 2005 out of Riverside (Ca.) Community College under the old draft-and-follow rules. By 2009, he was ranked the No. 4 overall prospect in the Minor Leagues, and he joined the Braves' rotation that season. He was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts and 32-22 with a 3.28 ERA over his first three seasons in the Major Leagues.
But he also started having physical problems. He made just 22 starts for the Braves in 2011 while going on the disabled list twice with shoulder problems. He also missed time in 2012 because of a strained lower back and finished the season 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA. His fastball had also dipped to an average of 89.6 mph.
When Hanson is at his best, he has a fastball that is clocked at 92 mph with a slider, curve and changeup that all can get outs. But as his injuries and other issues have mounted, his fastball has lost some zip, and he has not been as sharp with his breaking pitches.
Hanson has been throwing for the past two months. He made some adjustments in his delivery at the end of last year that seemed to help, and he is hoping to carry that into Spring Training.
"I feel great," Hanson said. "The last two months I've thrown quite a few bullpens, and I feel outstanding. Everything feels good. I'm ready to go."
To make room for Hanson on the 40-man roster, the Rangers placed pitcher Joseph Ortiz on the 60-day disabled list. Ortiz had surgery earlier this month for a fractured left ankle and is expected to be sidelined for three months.
This is not the first time the Rangers tried to acquire Hanson. He was among the Braves prospects who the Rangers scouted in 2007 when they were working on the Mark Teixeira trade. But the Braves did not want to give him up.
"And rightfully so," Daniels said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.