Work Samples

MLB: Norwalk's Joel Hanrahan regaining strength, confidence

March 8, 2010

By David Driver
For the DesMoines Register
Used with permission

Norwalk pitcher Joel Hanrahan’s hopes of a successful season with the Pittsburgh Pirates are being measured a few careful feet at a time.

When he arrived for spring training in Bradenton, Fla., last month, Hanrahan began a process of working his arm back into shape.

Hanrahan, who is rehabbing from an elbow injury, is creeping closer to regular work.

“I started throwing about three days ago,” he said Saturday, after making about 50 throws of 60 feet off a flat surface at the Pirates complex in Bradenton. “It is a slow process. I am working up to throwing from about 120 feet. Tomorrow is 75. We are going to take it slow.”

Hanrahan, 28, hopes to throw off the mound around March 15 during his first spring training with Pittsburgh.

He said it is possible he could begin the season on the disabled list with the Pirates, with whom he did well last season after being traded from the Washington Nationals.

“We have not talked about (the DL) a lot. I may be two or three games behind” by the time opening day arrives, Hanrahan said.

Hanrahan, a right-hander who has been used out of the bullpen the past two seasons, spent most of the offseason at his home in Texas. He was back in Iowa for about a week over the Christmas holidays to see relatives, then took part in a minicamp in Bradenton.

“I came down here for a week in January. I threw two bullpens and was fine and it was on the third one that (his elbow) flared up a little bit,” he said. “I tried to take a week off and hope it would be OK. It never went away. It bothered me a little bit at the end of last year as well.”

The setback is especially unfortunate for Hanrahan, who excelled for the Pirates last year. He was 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA in 34 games for the Nationals, but was 0-1, 1.72 in 33 outings for Pittsburgh after a June 2009 trade.

Hanrahan was 5-3 with a 6.00 ERA in 12 games — 11 of those starts — for the Nationals in 2007. He was 6-3, 3.95 in 2008 in 69 appearances — all out of the bullpen.

Last season, he was a combined 1-4, 4.78 in 67 games out of the bullpen. In 64 innings, he allowed 73 hits (three homers) with 34 walks and 72 strikeouts.

“I think there was a lot of pressure put on their bullpen,” Pittsburgh manager John Russell told last year, in reference to Hanrahan’s role with Washington. “It was openly made public that they needed to pitch better. I think it snowballed on him and he lost some confidence.”

Said Hanrahan, who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2000: “The move last year (to Pittsburgh) worked out for the best. I was struggling with Washington. I worried maybe I would not be there the next day if things went bad. It is a chance to get a new start and clear your mind a little bit.”

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said the team has high hopes for the Iowa native.

“He will probably be ready early in the season. That is a conservative target date,”

Huntington said in a telephone interview Sunday. “He needs to be aggressive in the strike zone. He can be a setup guy for us.”

Huntington said Hanrahan would most likely work in the sixth, seventh or even eighth innings of games. Huntington praised his pro scouts for seeing the ability of Hanrahan while he was with Washington.

“He was having struggles over there,” Huntington said.

Hanrahan had a chance to be the closer for a short time during his stint with Washington, a move that was backed by former general manager Jim Bowden. But Hanrahan said the best fit for him most likely will be the sixth or seventh inning.

“Any bullpen guy would love to be a closer,” he said.

Now he is working with Russell and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, a former major league pitcher.

“He is very good about getting information to you,” Hanrahan said of Kerrigan. “He is probably one of the most prepared coaches I have seen.”

Now Hanrahan hopes his preparation will get him ready for the season for a team he found success with a year ago.