One of the hardest things for most professional athletes to do is to slow down. Most have a competitive spirit, a fire if you will, that makes them want to be out on the field no matter what.
That came back to bite Atlanta Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson last year. He was having issues with his back and shoulder, but he kept pushing to return so he could help the Braves in the pennant race.
“I just kept trying to come back too fast,” Hanson said. “I wanted to get back out there and pitch, and I don’t think I gave my arm the time it needed to get better and to heal. I think I just kept trying to rush back too fast. It never felt right.”
Bill Shanks interview with Tommy Hanson.
Tests on Hanson’s shoulder revealed no alarming damage -- nothing that required surgery. He had some inflammation in the front of his shoulder, along with a tiny tear in the rotator cuff. Dr. James Andrews, the world-renowned sports doctor, told him three out of four pitchers had the same type of injury.
So it wasn’t like an injury that was clear cut, like a torn elbow ligament that would have had him going under the knife. Instead, Hanson had to strengthen his shoulder and work hard to get back.
“The days it felt good, instead of just going out and throwing light or not throwing as much, I’d go out and try to push it to come back faster, and then I’d have a setback,” Hanson said. “It’s hard. That was really the first time I’ve been hurt. I didn’t want to sit around and take extra time. I wanted to get back as soon as possible. I wish I had been a little bit smarter about it and taken the extra week or two weeks so I could’ve at least come back to the end of the season. It’s kind of a Catch 22.”
But Hanson didn’t make it back at the end of the season, and he had to sit and watch the Braves squander a big lead in the NL wild-card race.
“It was borderline miserable for me,” he said. “Sitting there watching us lose games was definitely not fun.”
After the season, Hanson went to Orlando, Fla., and spent a month working with the Braves’ minor league physical therapist on strengthening his shoulder. Now he’s throwing long toss three times per week, with light throwing two other days. He’ll throw off a mound on Jan. 31 when Camp Roger (pitching coach Roger McDowell’s throwing program) starts at Turner Field.
“I’m doing my normal workout, but there’s a little more physical therapy involved and just trying to strengthen all those muscles in my shoulder,” Hanson said. “I’m feeling good. My shoulder feels a lot better.”
The Braves need Hanson to get back to being the dominant pitcher he was in the first half of last season, when he was being mentioned as a Cy Young award candidate. He was 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA, with 109 strikeouts in 103-1/3 innings.
Atlanta also has Jair Jurrjens returning from a knee issue and Tim Hudson coming off back surgery. So the health of their big three starting pitchers will be critical if the Braves are to contend in a much-improved NL East.
Hanson believes he’ll be there and can have a successful, full season.
“I feel like I’ve put my work in and I’ve done all I could have done,” Hanson said. “I feel my shoulder is strong, and I feel like my body is ready to go. I don’t think there’s going to be an issue.”
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.