Pirates' Hansen making recovery
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Craig Hansen stood outside the Pirate City clubhouse Tuesday morning and summarized his plight since April 19, 2009, the last time he threw a pitch in a Major League Baseball game, doing so at PNC Park in an 11-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
"It has been a rough journey," Hansen said, shrugging his shoulders, then pausing for a moment.
"But the more you wonder, the more you dread on it. Sometimes, it can eat away at you. You know, everything just happens for a reason."
It might be impossible to find a reason why all this happened to the 27-year-old, onetime relief prospect, who is in a clash for a spot on Class AAA Indianapolis' staff.
Hansen, part of the July 31, 2008, three-team deadline day trade that shipped Jason Bay to Boston, has had to learn how to pitch again after dealing with Parsonage-Turner syndrome, an unusual ailment in which a nerve in his upper back loses the ability to send signals to the trapezius muscle.
"And there's no explanation," he said.
"It just happens to some people."
There is no definitive reason for the condition that also can cause sharp pain near the neck, and no definite rehabilitation process.
Quite simply, it just works its way through the afflicted person.
"I'd say I am about 90 percent back from it," he said.
"Maybe a little more than that.
"Not all the way, but, from where I was, this is a whole lot better."
Where he was he remembers vividly.
Suddenly, early in the 2009 season, he would lift weights and not be able to handle as much.
At the same time, his velocity dipped -- abruptly and alarmingly -- from the mid-to-upper 90s into just a tick or two above 90.
A simple game of catch increasingly became a task as the strength in his arm rapidly decreased.
For a few months, as Hansen was having tests, it was uncertain exactly what was afflicting him.
Eventually, it was discovered -- through a nerve test -- that he had been suffering from Parsonage-Turner.
He could do little but wait for the symptoms to dissipate and then begin to throw again.
Hansen has been throwing in the low 90s this spring and is working in a regular pitching group in minor league camp, doing everything everyone else is doing.
"Craig's work to come back from what he has come back from is admirable," general manager Neal Huntington said.
"And his ability to show the flashes he has been showing is intriguing. We are intrigued about his upside."
Hansen knocked aside a question about long-term goals. It appears he is not interested in such projections; he doesn't want to look too far ahead.
Instead, as he was set to walk out to the field for a 9 a.m. workout Tuesday, he offered his new outlook.
"Every day now, I wake up and I'm just like, 'Here we go, let's get after it,' " Hansen said.
"That is how I have to look at things now. I can't really look back too much at what happened to me and I can't plan too far in the future and take things for granted.
"I just look at today and say, "Go out there and throw it the best you can today and what happens, happens.' "
The Pirates granted an unconditional release Tuesday to right-handed pitcher Fernando Nieve. It comes on the heels of a move Monday, when the 28-year-old Venezuelan was reassigned from major league camp to minor league camp. Nieve was 1-1 with a 5.82 ERA in 71/3 innings this spring.
First Published March 23, 2011 12:00 am