Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our Chat With Joel Hanrahan


When John Lannan takes the ball to the mound on Opening Day at Dolphin Stadium in Florida this March 6th, he will be looking for a win. And if Joel Hanrahan has any say in it--Our Number 38 will close out Curly "W" Number One for 2009. A recorded save giving significance to how far Joel Hanrahan has progressed in Major League Baseball. Three years ago, Hanrahan was a Minor League Free Agent just looking for ANY TEAM to pick him up. The Los Angeles Dodgers had lost faith in him.

Fast forward to today.

Joel Hanrahan is best friends with Chad Cordero. In fact, over past off seasons, Joel has invited "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" to workout with him near his hometown of Dallas, Texas. To this very day, they talk on a regular basis. How ironic that Our Number 38 has the talent to be a terrific closer. Joel Hanrahan--The Closer now for Our Washington Nationals--replacing his buddy.

After Chad Cordero went down for the season in early 2008, Big Jon Rauch raised his game and was pretty darn effective as closer for Washington through Mid-July. 17 Saves recorded for "The Wookie" before he was traded to The Arizona Diamondbacks for Emilio Bonifacio--The Second Baseman Of Our Future that lasted all of three months in The Nations Capital. When Big Number 51 was sent to Arizona--Joel Hanrahan rose to the occasion. Looking to make an impact, and playing on a last place team, Our Number 38 was fairly impressive finishing off games. No one questions Joel's overpowering speed. He can hum the ball with the best in the game. But sometimes his command and control can be off. Still, Hanrahan finished off the 2008 Season recording 9 Saves in 13 opportunities while recording a 3.34 ERA over the final two months of the campaign.

As a fresh 2009 Season dawns--Joel Hanrahan is the presumptive closer for Our Washington Nationals. For the first time in his professional career, Hanrahan has been handed a given Major League role, before Spring Training even began. Currently, playing for Team USA in The World Baseball Classic, Joel Hanrahan spoke with The African Queen and I shortly before heading off to play for his country.

With that, here we go with Our Chat With Joel Hanrahan. Not only did the three of us talk about his role, but also the many changes, for the better, he sees within Our Washington Nationals for 2009.

Are you looking forward to the fact you have a role to play with this team and not having to worry that you are just trying to make this team? (SBF)

“Definitely, it’s nice knowing that Manny (Acta) believes in me to start off the season in that role. And I look forward to doing as much as I can to keep that role as long as possible.”

In the past, your downfall has been wildness. Can you harness your power and use that to your advantage? (SBF)

“I try not to think about it (being wild). I don’t think I am wild, just a little off-target some times (chuckling). But I think my command of my fastball right now is feeling really good. As long as I can get that over, I should be alright. It is really not a big issue with me.”

Two years ago you came to Washington looking for team that needed you. After years with The Dodgers and never experiencing The Majors, you have found an important role. Has that surprised you? (SBF)

“Yes, it really has. At that time, when I was a minor league free-agent, I never thought I would be closing for any team in The Big Leagues. I really thought I would end up being a 4th or 5th starter with somebody. That was my goal. Washington gave me that opportunity and it didn’t work out in the way I really had planned. Now, almost out of nowhere, I find myself with a huge role on a team that's looking to bounce back this year. I actually feel very fortunate.”

Did you find it difficult to adjust from being a starter all your life, to the closer today? It’s a completely different mindset. (SBF)

“I was really more worried about it mentally. The first month last season (when Washington sent Joel to the bullpen), I made the transition. It took me a while to get comfortable. The numbers weren’t too pretty at first. But after that first month, I said: ‘OK, this is the situation I am going to be in and I need to be better prepared.’ And after that first month adjusting, I really felt good. like I belonged in the role (of a reliever).”

Speaking of transition—how much more pressure do you feel being a closer as compared to a starter? (The African Queen)

“There is always going to be pressure, even if you come into any game in the 5th inning and it’s a tie ball game. I don’t like to think about: ‘Oh, if I don’t get the outs right here, we are going to lose.’ If they (the opponent) gets to me that day, so be it. Unfortunately, we get a loss and tomorrow we get to come back and play them again and prove ourselves again. I try to brush it off (bad outings) and not think about the pressure.”

When we talked last spring, you were just starting your relief appearances. Jogging out to the field with runners on base in a pivotal point in the game was new to you. I remember you telling me it was a whole new experience. Are you comfortable now throwing all your pitches, including your slider, under those situations? (SBF)

“Yeah, it was quite the adjustment. I needed to relax and think about the situation at hand—and not worry too much about the baserunners. There was usually no margin for error. But I found if I concentrated on the hitter—focused on that part of the game—I was alright. And more and more I felt comfortable throwing all my pitches. Many times, the batter is just as worried as I am. I need to take advantage of that fear.”

Are you then preparing any differently for this season as compared to every other season in your past? You are not going to throw 200 innings this season. (SBF)

“What I didn’t do was a whole lot of long distance running. I did a lot more sprints because I am going to be throwing 25 to 30 pitches per game. I don’t need to build up my arm strength to throw 100 pitches. I need to be able to go strong, all out, for a short period of time—no holding back. So that (sprints) is going to be better for me. That was certainly different for me (this off-season). I still had to do my long-toss to build up my arm strength. But overall, the only thing I changed in my off-season preparation was my running.”

Speaking of athletic ability—this is a completely different team than the one that stepped on the field in 2008. You should get plenty more chances to close out wins. (SBF)

“Is that ever the truth. We got some really big guys. Guys that have the power to put four or five runs on the board in one inning. It’s possible, we could hit four or five home runs per day—which will mean more opportunities for me to finish. We are not going to be out of many games. We just have to keep the guys on the field (not injured). That was really our biggest problem last year—not keeping everyone on the field. Everybody looks healthy know. We are feeling excited and ready to get going.”

The new training staff has changed many routines from the past. Is that helping? (The African Queen)

“The training is a little more intense. Nothing against our old guys (personal training staff), but we are doing a lot more agility type stuff. Routines to make all of us a little bit more quicker, stronger and ready for a long season. It’s really going pretty good. They are not out here trying to make us run 10-Miles per day, wearing us out. They seem to know how to get the best out of our abilities.”

There is a different feel to this camp. Shawn Hill told us that. So did Ryan Langerhans. (SBF)

“Yes, I agree. We are not out here for five hours just doing nothing. We are getting work in, quickly and the right way. Everybody is happy and working hard with their routines. And there haven’t been any problems yet.”

How much does Adam Dunn add to the clubhouse? (The African Queen)

“You can tell he is going to keep it nice and loose in there. And if he says something, that person is going to listen to him. He has our respect. People are not going to shy away from him. He’s definitely not afraid to step in and say: ‘Hey, you are doing this the wrong way.’ He’s not going to yell at you, but he is going to tell you in the way that he does—that sarcastic way—and people are going to listen to him.”

“In fact, everybody is getting along well. All of the new guys fit in. I think we are going to be a better close knit team.”

Going back to your role as The Closer for 2009. Being more relaxed because the team has given you this spot, are you worried at all? (SBF)

“I wouldn’t say I have been given the spot. If I come here and get no one out, then I am not going to be the closer long. I might not even be on the team (laughing). I still have to get those outs. It’s a little different than last year, but I still have to throw strikes. I still have to be dominant. I still have to help win the game. If I don’t throw strikes, Manny’s not going to be patient with me. He won’t trust me in the 9th. So, I need to make sure he does trust me—every single time out there.”

With that, Our Chat With Joel Hanrahan concluded. Can he harness all his power and moxie to effectively make the closer role his for years to come? Our Number 38 has all the talent. It's going to be interesting watching Joel Hanrahan grow into his newly found job.

6 comments:

Andrew Lang said...

Very enjoyable read about Joel Hanrahan. As I read the words, I really like Joel's un-cocky approach especially when he talked about being a 4th or 5th starter with the switch to the bullpen and closer role.

With Joel's velocity on his fastball, when he gets that hard slider clicking, he will be a TOP CLOSER in the league.

Anonymous said...

SBF:

Did you hear all the complimentary things Harold Reynolds and Al Leiter said about Joel when he came in to relieve Ted Lilly at last night's WBC game?

Anonymous said...

Joel sure did a great job in game for USA last night. Two strikeouts and helped keep the team in the game long enough to pull it out in the 9th. Way to go Joel!

Hanrahan Fan

SenatorNat said...

Last night, he looked good holding PR from getting more runs last night - they should have brought him in one batter earlier. He looks good - one tendency though on his slow stuff is to fall a bit on delivery to his left - batter's right - a bit off-balance. Chad faced the batter virtually head-on: my sense is that this gives the closer more command and presence. I am no Saint, however. Rivera looked solid again for PR, and Dunn can actually field normally in right - he is no Willie Mo "where is the ball and I am praying that I do not fall down going back on it" Pena!

Let's Go Nats - They Shall Shine in 2009. All Promising.

Anonymous said...

Opening day on March 6th? I think you meant April 6th. Wishful thinking for us both.

Anonymous said...

I could not be happier for Joel. My son and I met him when he first came up with the Nats in 2007 and he could not have been nicer. Even when he became the closer he still remained the same nice, approachable person he was when he was the 12th pitcher on a 12 man staff. From your interview it is clear that success had not gone to his head. It is so great when one of the "good "guys" makes it.