Friday, April 25, 2014

Tommy Hanson shines in his BB&T BallPark Debut for the Charlotte Knights

By Seth Lakso, Charlotte Observer Correspondent

In one of the more anticipated pitching debuts at BB&T BallPark this season, Tommy Hanson didn’t disappoint.

The 6-foot-6-inch former Atlanta Braves ace, tossed five hitless innings on his way to a win for the Knights, who took three of four from the Durham Bulls with a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of 10,307 on Friday.

The win was the third in a row for Charlotte, which handed the Bulls (15-8) their first series defeat of the season.

After allowing four runs on four hits in four innings in his first start of the season six days ago in Gwinnett, Hanson (1-1, 4.00) was considerably sharper on Friday, striking out six Bulls, while walking three. He threw 74 pitches on the night, 44 for strikes.

“I felt good,” said Hanson, who was pulled from the game with his no-hitter still intact. “A lot better than the first (start). I commanded my pitches ok and just tried to keep them off balance. Besides the walks, I feel like it was a pretty good outing.”

The right-hander said that he struggled to locate his changeup, but that he otherwise had everything working on Friday.

“I hit a wall my last outing,” he said. “This one, I felt good. I could have kept going and that’s a positive sign. I’m going to try to just keep building on that.”

Hanson, 27, had spent the previous five seasons in the Major Leagues (four years in Atlanta and one in Anaheim). He entered 2009 as the No. 2 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America and went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 games with the Braves.

However, a rash of arm injuries led to his velocity dipping in 2013, and after a disappointing spring with the Texas Rangers, he was released. Before signing a Minor League contract with the White Sox on April 8, Hanson had spent two weeks without an employer.

“I had two weeks off where I wasn’t really throwing to a catcher," he said. "I was just throwing against a fence and having my wife roll the balls back to me. So I’m just trying to build my arm-strength back up and keep working on my command.”

The Knights (9-13) got all the runs they’d need in the first inning thanks to a two-out three-run home run from Andy Wilkins, who beat up on the Bulls over the last three games to the tune of a .400 average (4 for 10) with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs.

Charlotte relievers Frank Francisco (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) and Mitchell Boggs (2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K) were able to preserve the win for Hanson.

The Bulls first hit of the night came in the sixth inning, when Kevin Kiermaier led off with a single. However, in an attempt to stretch it into a double, Kiermaier was thrown out by Knights right fielder Denis Phipps.

The lone Durham run came on a two-out solo home run by Wilson Betemit in the top of the ninth off Boggs.

Friday’s sellout was the sixth of the season for the Knights. It took the number of fans to pass through BB&T BallPark’s gates to 106,058. The Knights entered the day leading the entire Minor Leagues in average attendance with an average of 9,575 per game.

It took the Knights until June 2 (29 games) to reach to 100,000 fans last season in Fort Mill, S.C.

“It was a great crowd,” said Hanson. “It’s been great, especially the last two nights. It’s fun to play when you’ve got some fans out there. It adds to your adrenaline a little bit.”

Charlotte will now head to Rochester, N.Y., for four games against the Red Wings before hopping over to Buffalo, on May 1st for a four game set with the Bisons.