ANAHEIM, Calif. – If there was ever a perfect time for a feel-good story, Tuesday night was it.
Tommy Hanson was making his first start in almost five weeks, and he was pitching the way the Angels had envisioned when they traded for him last November. He was a sight to behold, throwing strikes, locating the ball and getting outs for a team that desperately needs wins.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a lot of fun pitching.”
Hanson has been derailed twice this season, once when he took a bereavement leave in April to deal with the death of his 24-year-old stepbrother and again last month when he when on the disabled list because of a strain in his right forearm.
The Angels activated him Tuesday, put him on an 80-pitch limit and sent him out to face the Twins. He retired the first eight batters of the game, pitched into the sixth inning and finished with a season-high eight strikeouts.
“That’s the best stuff I’ve seen Tommy have since he’s been here, maybe since we even saw him pitch for Atlanta,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “His fastball was live; he looked like he had great command. There’s no doubt this is the stuff we’ve been waiting to see from Tommy.”
Hanson has been waiting too, but it’s difficult to create consistency when the season is full of starts and stops. The Angels liked the right-hander enough to trade promising reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves in the offseason, and they had big hopes for Hanson, who won 13 games last year in Atlanta.
In a rehab appearance at Class A Inland Empire last Thursday, Hanson showed he was ready to return to the Angels’ rotation, working 3 1/3 innings and striking out six.
“When we got the report back, we were pleasantly surprised, not just seeing him feel strong but get back to some of the numbers that made him one of the up-and-coming young stars in the National League,” Scioscia said. “That’s the stuff he had tonight.”
Hanson left the game with a 2-1 lead, but the usually reliable Angels bullpen let the game slip away. Dane De La Rosa and Kevin Jepsen each gave up a run, and although the Angels tied the game in the ninth, closer Ernesto Frieri imploded, serving up a grand slam in the 10th to backup catcher Chris Herrmann.
Herrmann started in place of All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, who returned home after his wife gave birth to twins.
Even after watching his team stumble at the end, Scioscia had no complaints with his team’s effort.
“The effort’s 100 percent,” he said. “Those guys are going hard. We didn’t get much done. A double play ball got us a couple of times, and with runners in scoring position we were poor tonight. But these guys are grinding it out. They’re trying to get some things going.”
That includes Hanson, who could be critical to the Angels’ fading chances of somehow remaining contenders for a playoff spot.
“I feel really healthy,” he said. “Everything feels really good. I didn’t feel like I had to force anything tonight. It was there.”