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Change of scenery benefits Pirates' pitcher Joel Hanrahan

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, Sept. 11, 2009

Is the Joel Hanrahan who's working these days out of the Pirates' bullpen the same right-hander who was shelled so often this season for the Washington Nationals.

"I'm basically the same guy I was in Washington," Hanrahan said, with a grin. "I'm just getting better results."

How, then, to explain Hanrahan's night-and-day performance since being traded to the Pirates at the end of June?

"Sometimes, a guy just needs a breath of fresh air ... and sometimes, he needs some luck," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Joel was incredibly unlucky with Washington."

Hanrahan began this year as a closer, but he struggled and was twice demoted to lesser roles. In 28 games with the Pirates, working as a setup man for closer Matt Capps, Hanrahan has six holds and a 2.05 ERA.

In August, Hanrahan allowed one earned run in 13 innings. He's worked three scoreless outings this month.

Since joining the Pirates, Hanrahan's ERA has dropped from 7.71 to 5.19.

Significant improvement
Pitcher Joel Hanrahan's stats this season with the Nationals and Pirates:
Nationals 34 1-3 7.71 322/3 50 28/28 13 35 1.959
Pirates 28 0-1 2.05 261/3 22 9/6 17 33 1.481

"This is the kind of pitcher I was last year," said Hanrahan, who went 6-3 with nine saves and a 3.95 ERA in 2008.

"In Washington, it was a lot of up-and-down stuff," he said. "I went from being the closer to pitching once every five or six days. I'm the kind of guy who likes to be on the mound. They're giving me that opportunity here, so I'm relaxed and throwing strikes."

The Nationals, whose bullpen is arguably the worst in the majors this season, never allowed Hanrahan to settle into the closer's job. Their faith in him was constantly waxing and waning.

"It was one of those situations, they were struggling as a staff, and he was the closer, then he wasn't, then he was," Pirates manager John Russell said. "There was a lot of pressure put on their bullpen, and it was openly made public. It snowballed on them. He lost some confidence, probably."

When the Pirates acquired Hanrahan on June 30 as part of the Nyjer Morgan trade, they chose to ease him into his new role. His first six appearances were all an inning or less and mostly low-pressure situations.

"There have been times when he didn't have great stuff or wasn't commanding the ball, but (Russell) has done a nice job of getting him out before an inning's blown up on him," Huntington said. "That's built his confidence."

On July 22 against Milwaukee, Hanrahan took the mound in the fifth inning after starter Paul Maholm was torched for seven runs. Hanrahan tossed 21/3 scoreless innings that bought the Pirates time to rally for an 8-7 victory.

"He did a great job and kept us in that game," Russell said. "I think that was one of the bigger moments for him since we've had him. He has the ability to hold a lead at a crucial part of the game."

In addition to judiciously boosting Hanrahan's confidence, the Pirates have tweaked his mechanics. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan lowered Hanrahan's hands so they're close to his belt at the start of his delivery.

It's a minor adjustment but has given Hanrahan a bit more deception and helped him relax on the mound.

"It's probably a little quicker (delivery) just because my arm has the right timing," Hanrahan said. "When I had my hands up high, I'd bring them down and then back up. When I start with my hands down, I can just go to my trigger and go. It's simplified things and made it easy."

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