Braves rookie Hanson impressive from start

The first time Don Sutton saw Tommy Hanson pitch in spring training, the Hall of Famer said immediately you could throw Hanson’s birth certificate out the window — the same place Sutton threw restraint when asked about the Braves rookie phenom back in March.

“He has four pitches, he’s a quick learner [and he] makes great adjustments,” Sutton said at that time, adding that it didn’t matter if Hanson was just 22. “I think he has a chance to be a superstar.”

Six months later, all that Sutton has seen of Hanson — the Braves broadcaster has witnessed each of Hanson’s 17 big-league starts — has only strengthened his initial opinion of the right-hander, who is 9-3 with a 2.83 ERA before a scheduled start Tuesday against the New York Mets at Turner Field.

“I think he’s been everything I expected him to be and maybe taken the extra step,” Sutton said. “I think with a first-year pitcher, you hope he lives up to what you expect from a first-year pitcher. I think what he’s done is lived up to what you would expect from a third-year pitcher.”

Hanson hasn’t just lived up to the hype that engulfed him after his MVP performance in the 2008 Arizona Fall League and headline-making spring training; he has actually exceeded expectations since being promoted from Class AAA in June.

“He’s got all those attributes of a young kid who’s different,” said Cox, who especially likes Hanson’s mound presence and how he “takes charge” of a game.

He gave the biggest compliment he’ll give a young pitcher: “I think he’s got potential to be an ace. That’s saying a lot,” Cox said.

Hanson gave up six runs and three homers in his June 7 major league debut against Milwaukee and has gone 9-3 with a 2.45 ERA and .229 opponents’ average in 16 starts since then.

“I wanted to come up here and do well and help the team win and I feel like, for the most part, I’ve done a good job with that,” Hanson said. “I’ve still got a lot of stuff to learn, a lot of stuff to work on, but I’m happy with the way it’s gone for the most part.

“I’ve learned a lot of mental stuff, how to pitch some guys and what to do when I’m out there. I’ve got a better feel for pitching in general. I feel like I’ve come a long way since last year.”

Hanson improved as the season wore on, posting a 4-1 record, 2.21 ERA and .212 opponents’ average in his past seven starts. The Astros showered him with praise Wednesday after he pitched eight scoreless innings of five-hit ball with no walks and seven strikeouts in Houston, before Rafael Soriano blew the 1-0 lead in the ninth.

Hanson had more than five strikeouts only once in his first 11 starts and has seven or more strikeouts four times in his past six. He has 39 strikeouts and seven walks in 34-2/3 innings in those six games.

His only loss in his last seven games came Aug. 28 in Philadelphia, when he gave up one run (a homer) in two innings before a second rain delay.

With the Braves all but eliminated from the playoff picture, they might reduce Hanson’s workload. Instead of having three more starts after Tuesday, Cox indicated Hanson might have a turn skipped.

“He’s pitched a lot,” Cox said. “He pitched all last year, pitched in the Fall League, pitched extra in spring training, all those starts, and then [Class AAA] Gwinnett starts, our starts ...”

Hanson has impressed a lot of people along the way, including one 324-game winner, in particular.

“He has a great inner grasp of pitching,” Sutton said. “I think you can almost sense sometime, seeing him making a pitch or doing something because of something inside of him tells him to do it, not because it was scouting report or a suggestion. ... He’s exciting to watch. He’s going to be great.”