Thursday, July 10, 2008
Joel Hanrahan ESPN Zone
For six years, Joel Hanrahan was a member of The Los Angeles Dodgers. Drafted in the second round in 2000, Our Number 38 thought he was going to be drafted by The Atlanta Braves in the third. Instead, The Dodgers came calling and this Iowa Native signed with the team. Ironically, to this day, Hanrahan finds it funny that his very first Little League Team he played for was also called--The Dodgers. Now--he is a valuable member of Our Washington Nationals. A one time starter, now turned into a set up man out of the bullpen. Known for his velocity, at times Joel has trouble with his command. Still young at 26 Years of age, Hanrahan is still looking to find his place in the game of Professional Baseball.
Yesterday, June 9th--Joel posted up with Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes at the monthly ESPN Zone Meet & Greet in Downtown Washington, DC. For 30 minutes, Charlie hosted, asked questions, and took questions from the audience, while Hanrahan answered in the specially provided Leather Nationals Recliner.
Here is the transcript of most of the Q & A with Charlie Slowes and Joel Hanrahan.
Charlie: Of course Joel’s been pretty busy in the past week trying to raise money for disaster relief and flood victims of the bad weather in the mid-west and, of course, your native Iowa.
“Yes, last week we tried to do something for them. We had a fundraiser set up and we raised nearly $9000 for that. I am just trying to help those people back there as I am in a fortunate position here (with The Nationals) to be able to do that and I think it turned out pretty well.”
Charlie: We had a little less than one week to set it up. The auction ran for about a week. There were a bunch of different items. An Ultimate Nats Fan Experience raised $2100 from the highest bidder. Radio broadcaster for a day hanging out with us (Charlie & Dave Jageler) in the booth was the second highest item--$1600. How about that!!
“Yeah, that’s because you guys were just pushing it all the time.”
Charlie: Well, we were pushing all the items!!
“All you talked about was the experience with you! (Joking) We had some others who are going to eat lunch with The Bullpen.”
Charlie: That’s true. Lunch with The Bullpen. There was also a winning bidder for a Pitching Clinic with Joel Hanrahan.
“Let’s just hope I don’t mess them up too bad with that.” (joking)
Charlie: Of course you grew up with The Dodger Way. A franchise with a great tradition—always pitching rich. To this day, that is what they always preach.
“The Dodgers may have been a little too pitching rich for me. I never quite got up there (The Majors) with them. I learned a lot of things there with The Dodgers, Sandy Koufax, Rick Honeycutt was there, for a while. There were a whole lot of people coming in and out there. I was fortunate to spend six years with them, but I was happy to get out of there too.”
Charlie: All those years of Spring Training in Vero Beach. Hard to believe there will be no Spring Training in Vero next year (The Dodgers moved their training headquarters to Arizona).
“Yeah, that’s crazy. I remember as a kid going there to see The Dodgers in Spring Training. Then, I trained there, put in a full season there (Gulf Coast League)—six spring trainings. It should be pretty crazy for some not to make that Vero Beach trip again. I am sure someone (another team) will get in there sometime.”
On to questions:
Question: Joel, when Brian Schneider was here, you always heard that he was really good at handling pitchers. I was wondering how much a catcher makes a difference for you, and how?
“I am one of those guys that I never really cared who caught me or cared about what a catcher does. As long as the catcher puts down the right fingers, I will be happy. But, we got (Jesus) Flores and Wil Nieves, and then Paul (LoDuca) occasionally. Flores is still learning at the Big League Level. He’s doing a great job with us right now. And he’s only going to get better. We look forward to having him here for a while.”
Who is your favorite player of all time?
“My favorite player of all time—I don’t have just one. When I was younger, I use to be a catcher as well. I was a big fan of Carlton Fisk. Then, Frank Thomas and Nolan Ryan.”
Charlie: Nolan Ryan was pitching idol? “Yeah” Not bad.
“Big guy, you know.”
Charlie: (After a trivia question about Joel’s first major league hit being a triple) We always talk about this (in the broadcast booth), especially when the weather is hot and you are out on the bases a long time (after reaching base)—how much that might take out of your strength.
“You can say it doesn’t affect you, but for some reason it does. I don’t know what the reason is. We do our conditioning. We do our sprints all the time, cardio distance running. But there is nothing like getting out there and running from first to second base, home to second or second to home. For some reason, it just takes some energy out of you. I don’t know why.”
Charlie: When a pitcher comes back from an injury and is pitching in a simulated game, they (staff) even make the pitcher sit down, as if between innings in the dugout. They don’t have you bat to simulate that aspect of the game, do they?
“No, we don’t do much hitting at all.”
Charlie: Converting to relief pitching, you were a starting pitcher your entire career—for the most part—until this year. And right from the get go in Spring Training, they (The Nationals) decide to try you in relief.
“That was a different situation. I was not too excited about it at first. I will do anything I can do to get in the Big Leagues and stay in the Big Leagues—and help out the team. In Spring Training, I made the transition really well. I had a great spring. I saw that my velocity was up a little higher. I took Spring Training as a time to learn how many pitches I need to warm up. It was an adjustment period for getting into the season. I struggled my first month with situations, getting ready real quick. Sometimes, I tried to get ready too quick and it affected me (wasn’t loosen up properly). But, it’s been a good transition and hopefully it will get better.”
Charlie: How about last night (July 8), Steven Shell has been a starting pitcher most of his career in The Minor Leagues with The Angels before this year. You are sitting out in the bullpen, the pitcher is in trouble, you know your time in the game, maybe the hitters they (coaches) want you to face. You kind of have an idea, you start moving around to get ready. But in Shell’s case, Odalis Perez gets tossed in the third inning while cruising along—no one is thinking about coming into the game for him. Now, you are out there, you don’t get warmed up in the bullpen, that safety net is gone. Now, you have to warm up on the game mound. You might feel you have as much time as you need, but you might also feel like you are holding things up.
“That’s a very different situation coming in there—having to warm up on the field, it’s not the one you hope for. It means someone got thrown out or somebody got hurt. Down in the bullpen you have the time to work on things, take more time. Out there (on the game mound), you have 40,000 people watching you. The other team is sitting in the dugout watching your every pitch that you throw. In the bullpen, you have a little bit more privacy back there. It’s tough, but Shell came out there and did a great job under tough circumstances.”
Charlie: Yeah, if you are in The Bullpen, unless it’s Wrigley Field or San Francisco, where it’s right on the field, you can bounce a couple or throw the ball over the catcher’s head and no one is really going to notice.
Question: Hank Steinbrenner (NY Yankees Team President) criticized The National League style of play for having their pitchers bat. What is you take on that, do you think The National League should go to a Designated Hitter?
“I am personally in favor of having the pitcher hit, because I like to hit. But, as you can see with some of our guys, like (John) Lannan, some pitchers are not very good hitters. So for them, it’s leave me out. But, I think it’s good. The DH is just someone who is paid to hit. That doesn’t show off a bunch of skills. I am in favor of letting the pitcher hit.”
Charlie: In Steinbrenner’s case, he was upset over Chien Ming Wang getting hurt running the bases, and they invest a lot of money into their starting pitching. They are not doing that (batting) all season.
“Well yeah, but it’s only fair, when they (American League Teams) come to our park, it’s only fair they hit. He (Wang) could have gotten hurt running to cover first base (off the mound). If he has a problem with it, he should not have gotten on base (chuckling).
Question: John Lannan has some unusual game day habits (not discussed). Do you have any?
“When I was a starter, I might have. Sometimes, more so in The Minor Leagues. When I was home at Vero Beach, during day games—I would go to Bob Evans, get some cinnamon pancakes, a couple cups of coffee. But now, since I am in The Bullpen, I don’t really have much. I will throw with the outfielders during the 4th inning, have a Red Bull, because it gives you wings!! Then, I will do my stretching routine in the 5th inning. That’s really about it.”
Charlie: Your routine as a starter is to get you ready every five days and that day is different from the other four.
“As a starter you have four days to prepare, you watch game films, do your workouts and all that good stuff, then once game day comes around, some people feel like they have to stay away from me. I was always the one to turn on the music, talk to guys, and have everyone around—act like it was just another day. And not put too much pressure on myself.”
Charlie: Now since you’ve become a relief pitcher, versus starting pitcher, John Lannan, Tim Redding, Shawn Hill, they all sit together in the dugout. And relievers are, of course, in the bullpen. So, do you get kicked out of the group? And welcomed to new friends?
“Those starters are a pretty tight knit group. It’s tough to get inside their group. But, we have our own little group in The Bullpen. We have a good time down there, play a couple of games, here and there—but try to keep it serious. Our games are sort of involved with the game playing before us. This makes us kind of watch the entire game. We take some things pretty serious down there. Like if you talk through The National Anthem you are going to get punished right there.”
Charlie: No talking during The Anthem.
“No ‘O’ here. We need to find a way to end the shouting of 'O' during the song. I really believe everyone should just respect the Anthem--without intervention." (to a huge ovation) “Just let it be, leave it alone.”
Question: What’s the hardest pitch to throw well. And why?
“That’s a tough one. For me, a curveball is hard to throw. A changer is hard to throw. Anything hard is more mental. We work at it so much. We have been pitching for our whole lives. But for me, that 3-2 is a tough pitch to throw, when the count is 3 balls, 2 strikes. In terms of pitch wise, I would say, the change up is hard for me to throw. It’s a very big ‘feel’ pitch. When I come out of the bullpen, there are times I won’t need it and I sort of lose the feel for it. But, its one of those things were you have to keep throwing it and throwing it and eventually get confidence in it.”
Charlie: And this is where relieving is different. You are usually coming into a situation with runners on base, not of you own doing, but you are expected to get out of the jam.
“I am use to getting out of messes of my own doing, that I created. Last year, I always seem to be in a mess (as a starter). But, if I walk a guy or two, I don’t panic anymore because I am use to it. Coming into a mess like that, it’s just something you have to work yourself out of. I think that I can get out of those situations most of the time.”
Charlie: Starting pitcher are usually relaxed at the start of each inning. The relief pitcher is most always in a high stress situation because the games are mostly decided in the 6th , 7th and 8th innings.
“It’s definitely different being out of the bullpen. As a starter, you are putting yourself into the mess—you are giving up a couple of runs here or there. You have control of the game. When you come in from the bullpen, it’s most always a do or die situation. And if you give up one run, that could be the game. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but sometimes the pressure kind of gets to you. And I get pissed at myself.”
Charlie: Were your plans to attend college (University of Nebraska) or wait out for The Major League Draft?
“I signed a scholarship to Nebraska. I was content with going there. They are a pretty good baseball school. I liked the coaches and I liked the staff. It was not too far from my home in Iowa. So, that was nice. I didn’t get recruited by a whole lot of colleges, as they were scared I would be drafted. And I said to myself—if they (Major League Club) gave me so much over this amount, I would say thanks for your scholarship (to Nebraska), but I won’t be attending your school. It’s always been a dream of mind to play professional baseball. And as soon as I got that opportunity (with The Dodgers), I had to run with it.”
Charlie: Do you think this has changed for high school players, pitchers in particular, going the college route?
“I don’t know which way I would recommend others to go. A lot of guys are coming out of college and going directly to The Big Leagues. They are getting all that hype about coming out of college and going to The Big Leagues. But I said, if I get the chance to play, I got to play. You never know what might happen to you during those three or four years of college. You might get hurt and never play again. Then, you end up saying to yourself, I missed my chance to play baseball. It was an easy decision for me, and others need to make their own choices.”
Charlie: Of course after signing, you found yourself in Rookie Ball in Great Falls, Montana. Tell us about that?
“Great Falls, Montana. A little different. My first day I flew into Billings, Montana. I got in and did not know anyone or anything. That night, we were leaving to go to Ogden, Utah—which was a 10 hour drive on a bus. So, this is my first day in professional baseball. Here I was, sitting next to another new player. I am 18 years old, right out of high school. I spoke only English. He spoke only Spanish. So, I found myself questioning myself about what in the heck I just got myself involved in to. Great Falls, Montana was a big change. They had host families (homes were the players stayed). That was kind of different. It was a fun experience to get away from home for a little bit. But, I missed Mama’s cooking though.”
Question: What harder, warming up in April (when it’s colder) or summer when it’s hotter?
“For me the biggest problem is cold. I had a little shoulder bug a few years ago. If it was cold out, it would take me forever get warmed up. And it would take forever to get my velocity up. Definitely April, but one of the advantages of April is that your arm is still fresh, because you really haven’t thrown all year. But, with the weather like we have here (in DC), you can get warmed up pretty quickly. Sometimes you got to take advantage of that and try not to throw a lot before a game—keep your arm fresh.”
Question: Joel, you here a lot of hype about young pitchers and what age they should start to throw a curve ball or any type of breaking ball. At what age, in your opinion, should a youngster start throwing a curve ball?
“The curveball, not sooner than their freshman year of high school, maybe. That might even be a bit too young. You might be able to get away with it as a freshman in high school. I think I was a fastball, change up guy until my sophomore year. Then, I started throwing the slider. I never got the curveball down though.”
Charlie: You see so many kids messing around trying to do stuff in Little League Baseball that are physically not ready for. How hard was it for you to resist all that, or did you have good people around you that drilled in your head—stay away from the stuff that will hurt you elbow or shoulder?
“When I was a kid, I don’t think I ever hit a curveball. I never faced a curveball until I was in high school—saying what the heck is that? I didn’t even know what a curveball was when I was 12 years old. Watching The Little League World Series, it’s just ridiculous. Kids out there throwing 80 MPH in Little League and then throwing the curveball in there—I don’t understand it. You have the chance to throw 100 MPH (when you grow up), don’t try to hurt your arm now. It kind of blows my mind seeing all of these kids having surgery at 13 or 14 years of age. When I was a kid, my Dad was my coach most of the time. We just threw fastballs and let the guys behind us make the plays. We weren’t on TV (in Iowa), so I guess it just wasn’t cool, I guess.”
Question: There was a game in Spring Training at Disney World where you came in an were just unbelievable—striking out eight of nine batters. What felt different that day, compared to other days? Do you know if you could do that all the time?
“I wish I could do that all the time. I wish I did. Yes. I don’t know what happened that day. Maybe the lights were just messed up, or something. I couldn’t explain it that day. Although I figured I had a pretty good chance to make the team that day. I had a good slider working that day. I had a good fastball. And I was fortunate they were all swinging and missing. Must have been bad lighting that night.”
“Yes, I struck out 8 of 9 outs and gave up one hit. The Braves had all their regulars in there. Unfortunately, it’s the only time I got Chipper (Jones) out. I think he owns me during the season. But at least I can say I got him in Spring Training. To say the least, that outing gave me a little bit of confidence. Of course, I thought maybe they would consider making me a starter again. That turned out to be a big day for me because it showed them (baseball operations) I could pitch here.”
Charlie: Do you still think about starting?
“No, I don’t think about it anymore. I have people ask me this all the time. Of course I can start, but I am not going to go out there saying so—especially during the season. If they (The Nationals) come to me this off season and ask me to prepare for a starting role. OK, I will do that. But, we have a pretty good starting rotation right now. Two or three guys that are sitting in AAA that could come up here right now. So, I don’t think we need any more help with the starters right now.”
With that final answer, it was time for everyone wanting, to line up and meet Joe Hanrahan. The Next ESPN Zone Meet & Greet with Charlie Slowes and a player for Our Washington Nationals to be named will be August 13th.
Finally, at the conclusion, like Lastings Milledge & Tim Redding before him, Joel Hanrahan signed the Nationals Lounge Chair to be given away to one lucky fan during the Last ESPN Zone event in September.