Pirates' Hanrahan endured struggles to become all-star
July 8, 2011 4:00 AM
The Pirates' Joel Hanrahan has recorded 25 saves this season.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Joel Hanrahan received plenty of congratulatory phone calls and text messages Sunday after it was announced that he had made the National League All-Star team, but a message from former Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, stood out because it is a reminder of the long, hard road he has taken to become one of the premier closers in the majors.
Kasten was the president of the Nationals from 2006-10, so he had a front-row seat for Hanrahan's struggles. Hanrahan, of course, was a pitcher in the Nationals organization from November '06 until June '09 when he was traded to the Pirates.
Game: Pirates vs. Cubs, 7:05, PNC Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports; WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP James McDonald (5-4, 4.40 ERA) vs. RHP Rodrigo Lopez (1-2, 2.29).
Key matchup: Lopez is most effective when he keeps the ball down and gets ground ball outs. The Pirates will need to be patient and find pitches to drive.
Of note: McDonald is 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts at PNC Park this year.
Hanrahan was a starter when he arrived in Washington, but, after spending the '07 season bouncing back and forth between the majors and Class AAA Columbus, he was converted into a reliever for the 2008 season.
In '08, he was a solid, but unspectacular reliever for the Nationals with nine saves in 12 opportunities. After struggling early in '09 season, he was traded to the Pirates.
Now that Hanrahan has made it to the top of his profession and is an All-Star, he doesn't want to forget the many struggles from the long trek that began in 2000 in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
"Stan Kasten texted me to tell me congratulations and to tell me he was proud of me," Hanrahan said. "I thought that was strange, but I definitely appreciated it because he saw me go through all those struggles and how hard I worked to try and get through them. He saw me sitting there next to my locker, head in hands, trying to find out answers to everything I was going through.
"So, that felt good, knowing that he still is still aware of what I am doing and he is still paying attention to the game. It really just was a good feeling hearing from someone like that who supported you through the tough times because you know it is genuine"
Hanrahan is the only Pirate picked for the All-Star Game Tuesday in Phoenix.
He earned his selection by setting a Pirates record for most consecutive saves without a blown save (25) when he finished off a 5-3 win Monday against the Houston Astros. His 25 saves also tied Mike Williams' team record for most saves before the All-Star Game.
Williams achieved the mark in '02 and '03 and, with a three-game home series against the Chicago Cubs left before the break, it is likely Hanrahan will own the record by the time he gets to Phoenix.
"I'm not really worried about anything other than putting up a zero every time I take the mound," said Hanrahan, downplaying his 25-for-25 save performance this season. "The records, the saves, the awards -- all of that stuff is nice, but it isn't my top goal. I just want to do my job, help this team win, so every day I come to the ballpark and I know that, if they are going to call my number, it means they need me to go out and shut the other team out."
While Hanrahan's overall talent and arm strength, in particular, impress manager Clint Hurdle, it is the closer's ability to learn from mistakes and make the necessary corrections to his delivery that enabled him to become a star.
"Lessons were learned over the past couple of seasons for Joel," Hurdle said. "He kind of figured out what didn't work for him mentally, and how he dealt with the good and the bad, he got to a much better place with that. I think he understood that command of his pitches was going to be an issue going forward.
"And I think a key has been he has stayed humble throughout this process. He knows how hard it is, how fleeting this success can be."
Hurdle said one big difference between Hanrahan's performance this year and last is his trust in his fastball.
Last season, Hanrahan threw a lot more sliders, but this year he is bringing the heat -- Hurdle called it "a fastball with top-shelf velocity" -- far more often and challenging hitters with it.
"Until someone starts knocking it around the park, he's going to keep throwing it," Hurdle said.
Hanrahan is happy about his All-Star selection, but he wishes some teammates were joining him.
But he said his selection has not settled in yet because of his focus on keeping the Pirates in contention in the National League Central.
"We have three games to play, three big games against a division foe," Hanrahan said. "And that's what our focus is -- win them all, especially here at home. These fans, they've been so supportive of this team for so long through some hard times that they deserve a winner, and they've been a huge part of this thing this year."