Pitching with a new delivery and a damaged shoulder that didn’t require surgery, Tommy Hanson gave up three runs — two earned — in one-plus innings Sunday against the Blue Jays in his spring debut.
Hanson turned in a one-two-three first, but he didn’t retire any of the four hitters he faced in the second before a rain delay halted his outing. Some of that was the defense’s fault, as Freddie Freeman committed an error behind him. Some of it was his fault, like when he gave up a two-run homer to one of baseball’s worst hitters in Jeff Mathis.
“The first inning was a lot more fun than the second,” Hanson told MLB.com. “I was getting balls that were soaked and wet and the mound was drenched. But it was still fun. When I was out there, I was just laughing about it because I was glad to be back out there on the mound. It was fun to compete again. It was one of those conditions where I didn’t really care what happened because it didn’t matter. It was almost like I was a little kid playing in the rain again.”
Hanson missed the final two months of last season and was diagnosed with a minor tear in his rotator cuff. The new delivery he’s working with this spring was designed to make him quicker to the plate, but it’s also supposed to be easier on his shoulder.
“I felt great,” Hanson said. “Obviously, my command was a little bit off, but my body felt really good. I made some good pitches at times.”
Hanson is expected to open the season as the Braves’ No. 2 starter.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.