Hanson 'honored' to get Opening Day start

Hanson 'honored' to get Opening Day start

Hanson 'honored' to get Opening Day start
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tommy Hanson could have done without the distractions he encountered after suffering a concussion courtesy of the one-car accident he experienced as he drove to the Braves' first Spring Training workout for pitchers and catchers on Feb. 20.

Having missed the final two months of the 2011 season with an inflamed right shoulder and needing to continue working on the altered delivery he developed in January, Hanson came to camp looking forward to the chance to spend six distraction-free weeks preparing for the regular season.

Turns out, he really only needed a little more than a month to convince the Braves that he was ready to accept the Opening Day start they had reserved for him before Spring Training began.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced Hanson will start Thursday's Opening Day game against the Mets at Citi Field. This will be the first career Opening Day assignment for the 25-year-old pitcher, who learned of the honor a couple hours before making his final Grapefruit League start against the Tigers on Saturday afternoon.

"It's definitely a good feeling," Hanson said. "I was excited about it. I'm definitely glad I'm pitching Opening Day. It's an honor."

Still five months shy of his 26th birthday, Hanson will be the Braves' youngest Opening Day starter since John Smoltz started the first game of the 1991 season one month shy of his 24th birthday.

"We were kind of leaning [toward Hanson] the whole time, before spring started," Gonzalez said. "Then not knowing with the concussion whether we could line him up, but so far everything has gone well."

After the Braves enjoy a scheduled off-day on Friday, they will send Jair Jurrjens to the mound to start Saturday's game against the Mets. Jurrjens will be scheduled to return to the mound six days later for the April 13 home opener against the Brewers.

With Tim Hudson sidelined until late April as he recovers from back surgery, Hanson and Jurrjens stood as the most likely candidates to gain the Opening Day start.

"I actually didn't expect to start Opening Day," Hanson said. "I thought JJ would. Either way, JJ is going to get the home opener. So that's pretty cool too."

Hanson's candidacy seemed to be weak when the concussion prevented him from completing his first live batting practice session until March 4. When he made his Grapefruit League debut exactly one week later, he was pelted by rain during a one-inning effort that was completed in anything but normal conditions.

But as the past two weeks have progressed, Hanson was reintroduced to some of the normalcy that he had known before his right shoulder discomfort steadily became more painful after last year's All-Star break.

Hanson allowed a two-run home run while pitching three innings against the Astros on March 16 and then surrendered just one hit against the Nationals five days later. After five strong innings against a Double-A Astros team on Monday, the Braves seemed to make the decision that he would be ready to make the Opening Day start.

The Braves felt even better about the decision after watching Hanson limit a dangerous Tigers lineup to two runs and five hits in six innings during Saturday's rain-shortened 2-1 loss.

"I feel like I'm ready to go," Hanson said. "The early games I was trying to find my command and find a feel for my pitches. The last two, I feel like I have those. I'm pretty close to where I need to be. I feel like I'm ready and I can go out and compete."

As Hanson has progressed through camp, he has said he is comfortable with his delivery, which was altered to lessen strain on his shoulder and allow him to be quicker to the plate when working from the stretch.

More importantly, Hanson has not experienced any problems with his shoulder, which actually began bothering him during the 2010 season. He ranked fourth in the National League with a 2.44 ERA he carried into last year's All-Star break. But after allowing five earned runs in three of the five starts he made after the break, Hanson was shut down for the remainder of the season.

Hanson will make this Opening Day start where his season ended last year. He did not pitch again after allowing the Mets seven runs in just 3 1/3 innings at Citi Field on Aug. 6.

"I'm definitely happy with the way [Spring Training] ended," Hanson said. "The way it began wasn't ideal. But [stuff] happens. I feel good where I'm at right now."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.