The first days of spring training are generally filled with hope and the excitement at the start of a new season.
Especially one held at Walt Disney World.
But the Atlanta Braves’ part of the happiest place on earth was consumed with anxiousness Monday, when it was learned starting pitcher Tommy Hanson was involved in an automobile accident early that morning.
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Did he suffer a concussion? Is it worse than that? Will he be out a long time?
Those questions were answered on Tuesday, when the Braves learned Hanson should miss only a few days while recovering from a mild concussion.
That’s great news for a team that needs a strong and healthy Hanson if it hopes to repeat what it did from last April to August and avoid another disastrous September.
Hanson was driving to the club’s complex before the first day of spring training when his car blew a tire and he drove off the road, according to published reports.
He called manager Fredi Gonzalez to tell him he was going to be late and then reported to camp, thinking everything was fine.
General manager Frank Wren told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Hanson didn’t have any visible injuries, but the medical staff sent him to the hospital to be tested for a concussion after he complained that he wasn’t feeling good.
Test results proved to be good news for Hanson and the team.
The Braves need him in the rotation at the start of the season, and possibly as the Opening Day starter, since it appears Tim Hudson will miss at least a month as he comes back from his surgery to repair a herniated disk in November.
But Hanson’s health, even before Monday’s accident, is uncertain.
He was on his way to his best season in 2011, going 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA by mid-July. He shut down opponents in June, winning all four of his starts, despite spending 15 days on the DL for tendinitis in his rotator cuff.
He continued his dominance to start July by allowing only two runs in 14 innings heading into the All-Star break.
But Hanson’s right shoulder quickly became worse. He won only one of his next five starts and his ERA rose to 3.60 before he was shut down on Aug. 6 with a partially torn rotator cuff.
In addition to rehabbing his shoulder, Hanson used the offseason to work with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell to retool his mechanics.
He has gotten rid of a hitch in his delivery and now uses more of his legs, so he won’t rely so much on his arm as much.
But what if the shoulder hasn’t healed? What if the new delivery doesn’t work?
That means the Braves could enter April with two of their top starters on the DL.
Minus Hanson, Hudson and Derek Lowe, who was traded to Cleveland in October, the rotation would be headlined by Jair Jurrjens, who missed the final month of last season because of a right knee problem, which was corrected with orthotics in the offseason.
Brandon Beachy, who led the Braves and National League rookies with 169 strikeouts, finishing his surprising season with a 7-3 record, would follow Jurrjens.
The rest of the starting staff would come from a group that includes Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Kris Medlen (who is slated to begin the season in the bullpen but has starting experience), and possibly Triple-A Gwinnett stalwart Todd Redmond or Arodys Vizcaino, another prized prospect.
Pitching is the team’s strength.
The Braves need everybody to keep pace with the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting staff and to stay ahead of the revamped Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals.