Coming off a shoulder injury and breaking in a new delivery, Tommy Hanson was looking for a smooth start to spring training.
Instead, he wound up with a wrecked car and a knock to the head.
Hanson was back in camp Thursday with the Atlanta Braves, feeling much better after a scary accident on his way to the opening workout for pitchers and catchers left him with a concussion.
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“It could have been a lot worse,” Hanson said, sharing details of the wreck for the first time. “I’m alive. I’m good. I’m healthy. There’s nothing wrong. I didn’t break anything. I just kind of rattled my head a little bit. I’m trying to look at the positives.”
Hanson, who went 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA last season, is one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers but already figured to get plenty of scrutiny during spring training. The right-hander worked hard to come back from an ailing shoulder that limited him to 22 starts, and he made a slight change in his pitching motion — smoothing out a pause just before he releases the ball — in hopes of improving his delivery.
Then, on his way to the Braves’ Disney World complex early Monday morning, Hanson’s car suddenly blew a tire as he was making a left turn. He skidded off the highway, down an embankment and across a grassy field before the vehicle finally came to a stop. He was tossed around violently during the rough ride, winding up with a concussion and several bruises even though he was wearing his seatbelt.
“I don’t remember how I hit my head or what I hit my head on,” Hanson said “I just tried to get my car to come to a stop.”
At first, the 25-year-old Hanson didn’t realize he was injured. He stepped on the gas and managed to get his mangled car back to the side of the road. From there, he called for a tow truck, which loaded up his vehicle and gave him a lift to the stadium. But once he arrived, the trainers realized Hanson wasn’t himself. They sent him to a doctor, who diagnosed a mild concussion.
Hanson skipped the first three days of camp, trying to get over the telltale symptoms of his injury: a throbbing headache and bouts of nausea that made it impossible for him to eat. When he awoke Thursday after finally getting a good night of sleep, the headache was gone. Hanson was still sore from bruises to his ribs and left shoulder, apparently caused by his seat belt, but otherwise feels like he’s almost back to normal.
“Hopefully this gets behind me as soon as possible,” Hanson said. “Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating. But it could have been a lot worse. Thank God it wasn’t. Hopefully I just miss a couple of more days, then I can be out there with the guys again.”
Under strict guidelines that teams have for dealing with concussions, Hanson underwent testing in the minor leagues to establish his normal baseline. He took another test Thursday to determine if there are any lingering problems and won’t be cleared for full activity until he’s completely recovered. In the meantime, he will resume a light workout routine, which might start out being nothing more than a short stint on an exercise bike.
“I don’t know what they have planned for me,” Hanson said. “I’d like to get back on the field this week. I feel a lot better now. I feel a lot clearer. At first, even just walking was kind of messed up. But I feel fine now. The headaches are gone. Obviously, the sooner the better, I’d like to get back out there. But that’s kind of up to them right now.”
Hanson is a key member of the staff, a 6-foot-6 pitcher who can be dominating at times (142 strikeouts in 130 innings last season) but is still looking for that breakout year. If he finally puts it all together, the Braves figure to have one of the baseball’s top rotations with 16-game winner Tim Hudson, All-Star Jair Jurrjens and promising Brandon Beachy.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez is eager to get Hanson back on the mound so he can continue to work on the changes he’s made in his delivery, which started last month during throwing sessions at Turner Field supervised by pitching coach Roger McDowell.
“I don’t know how that hesitation started. I’m not sure Tommy even knows how it started,” Gonzalez said. “But (the new motion) looks really, really good from the stretch. He’s still got a little tinkering to do from the windup, because it’s a different timing mechanism from the windup than it is from the stretch. I wish he was out here, but we’ll get him out here soon enough to work on that.”
The manager is certainly not concerned about any long-term impact from the wreck.
“He got hit in the perfect place,” Gonzalez joked. “The head is no problem. He’ll have a little headache and he’ll be fine.”
NOTES: 3B Chipper Jones was sporting quite a sunburn on his arms as he took part in batting practice Thursday, the result of going fishing the two previous days. “It was not much fun swinging the bat,” he moaned. … Jones also took a lot of ribbing over a photograph that circulated widely on the Internet making him look much heavier than he actually is because his shirt was blowing in the wind. “This is actually as light as I’ve ever been in camp, and everyone is saying I’m fat,” he said. Jones reported at about 227 pounds, down from his normal 235. … A couple of young pitchers who’ve caught Gonzalez’s attention: left-handers Luis Avilan and Sean Gilmartin. … Rookie Tyler Pastornicky, expected to take over at shortstop, was the only likely starter among the position players who had yet to report. “He probably didn’t know that he has an opportunity to come out here and work out,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think he’s pulling one of those `I’m gonna hold out.'” The first official full-roster workout is Saturday.