Three Hit Night For Alen Hanson; Hafner Touches 94 MPH
On a night where I got to see Ryan Hafner pitch for the first time, the good news was seeing Alen Hanson play for the fourth time. In last night’s game he was hit in the head with an errant pick-off throw, which caused him to leave the game. He was back in the lineup tonight, although he was at DH for the night. He did take infield practice earlier in the day so he seems to be fine after a scary looking incident. The Power ended up losing this one in the ninth inning 7-6, as Lakewood put three runs on the board, the last two coming with two outs. First the report on Hafner’s outing, followed by tonight’s game notes from Hanson, Willy Garcia, Jose Osuna and Gregory Polanco, plus some final notes on the four.
Hafner was very impressive in the first two innings, showing slightly more velocity than the original reports I’ve heard. He was sitting 92-93, working quickly through the first two innings by retiring all six batters he faced on just twenty pitches. Nineteen of those pitches were fastballs with one changeup thrown in that got a swing and miss. Hafner retired the rehabbing Ryan Howard on a groundout to lead off the second inning. In the third, Hafner lost some velocity, throwing 89-91. He walked the first batter on four pitches, who was then retired on a double play. He also gave up his first hit, a soft liner into right field, but got out of the inning without allowing a run.
In the fourth inning, things broke down a little for Hafner. He struck out the lead-off batter, then gave up two singles, one to Howard. Hafner then gave up a drive to the right field wall from the over-aged hot-hitting Chris Duffy, that Willy Garcia made a real nice catch on. Hafner could have been out of the inning with some heads up play after the catch as Howard was already at second base and running slow. Unfortunately the throw came in towards second and the cutoff man noticed well too late to double off Howard. The inning should have been finished with no damage. The next batter hit a line drive to first that popped out of Jose Osuna’s glove, but never left the infield, allowing a run to score. Hafner then walked the next batter, although he was real close on three of the four pitches, so he wasn’t really wild. The inning ended on pitch 19, which resulted in a long drive to center field that was caught by Polanco.
Hafner came out for the fifth inning, getting a swinging strikeout on the first batter and a foul out to the catcher for two quick outs. After that, he issued six pitch, then seven pitch, walks. He then faced Howard and threw the first ball in the dirt for a wild pitch, moving both runners up. Hafner got Howard to ground out to shortstop Ashley Ponce, who was playing the right of second base in the shift. Ponce made a decent stop, but rushed his throw for the slow-footed Howard and threw it away. Unfortunately it was scored a hit, hanging two more earned runs on the board for Hafner, a very friendly scoring play for Howard. Hafner was done after 79 pitches.
Ryan Hafner was mostly throwing fastballs (over 60, with a few pitches not registering on the gun), occasionally mixing in his change-up, with a few curveballs that had big break to them. His hardest pitch of the night was a high fastball in the fourth inning that was thrown for a ball, registering 94 MPH. In the fifth, he was 89-92 MPH. For the most part, he looked to be down in the zone and he was getting his share of swing and misses. He did have some wild pitches, one going to the backstop on the fly with no one on, something that he also did once during warmup pitches. It wasn’t as bad as I expected after seeing his recent results. He may have taken a step forward and with some defensive help he probably would’ve went into the sixth inning, something he hasn’t done this year. His velocity was the best of the four starters this series.
Hanson can hit and if that’s all there was to this game, he would already be in High-A ball. He had some trouble on the bases tonight, with a caught stealing and a generous stolen base credited to him. He left way too early on his stolen base and the pitcher had him caught stealing by a wide margin at second base if his throw was anywhere near the bag. Instead, the throw went into center field. Hanson got a stolen base on a play that would have likely resulted in him either being out by twenty feet or him getting in a rundown. He recorded three hits and even his out was hit solid, the best hit ball of the night, a line drive caught in the left/center field gap.
As I said yesterday, before I saw him I was worried about his strikeout total on the year. I’m not anymore because he rarely swings and misses, he is just a patient hitter, who works the count and might be too selective at times. He has good speed, but his base running needs work. He can flat out hit and shows very good line drive power. His range is excellent, which really showed without him in the field today. I am a believer in him now, as his two main flaws — base running smarts and his throwing accuracy — are easily fixed, especially since it’s coming from a 19-year-old in full-season ball. The thing to watch for with him is wearing down, as August hasn’t been kind to him his first two years.
Polanco is having a good season but I wouldn’t move him up to High-A ball based on what I’ve seen. He is still young at just twenty years old so he has plenty of time. He needs to work on his consistency, having more solid at-bats and a full season in low-A won’t hurt him. His speed is deceiving. Due to his long legs, he looks like he isn’t running hard but he covers ground quick. His jumps in the outfield could be better and tonight he wasn’t close to a ball that right fielder Willy Garcia almost made a diving catch on in center field. I didn’t see what happened to Polanco on the play because I was watching how far Garcia had to run to almost make a great catch. Polanco looks like he will be a good ballplayer, just doesn’t look like a finished product. He takes some real good swings and doesn’t get cheated at the plate. I got to see him throw finally tonight and it looked average, a bit better than your normal low-A center fielder but not as strong as Garcia.
Yesterday I mentioned that Garcia was being worked the last two days on keeping his throws down, so they can be cut-off if need be. Today he showed that the work paid-off, making a strong throw towards third on a deep fly that was cut-off, holding a runner at first base. At the plate, Garcia has a problem with breaking pitches, especially ones outside, which he can’t lay off. He is also just 19 years old so just the fact he’s hitting .257 with nine homers in full-season ball is encouraging. He can flat out throw and his defense also looks like a plus tool, especially range. Pitch recognition seems to be his problem, but he has shown that he can hammer a fastball, and yesterday he lined a single on a hanging curveball. He struck out twice tonight but one of those had two questionable called strikes. His other two times up he hit the ball well but had nothing to show for it.
His first time up today, Osuna crushed a homer into left-center for his fifth homer of the year. He also showed good patience on an eight pitch walk in the ninth, laying off some close pitches. He had some good at-bats in the series, taking a lot of pitches and hitting the ball hard a handful of times. Osuna has 23 doubles this year, with some seasoning, those doubles from a 19-year-old, will turn into homers. His defense was a weakness prior to this year but he held his own and even made a nice scoop on the back-end of a double play.
With these four players, the Pirates have some real talent on offense, all in the 19-20 age range. Based on how they played this series, I’d rank them Hanson, Polanco, Osuna and Garcia, although they all seem to have power potential and at least for three of them (not Osuna), they seem to have other tools besides a good bat. With some patience, they could have a huge payoff, and that is without bringing Josh Bell into the equation. Barring setbacks in rehab, he should be back soon with this group.
**Taylor Lewis went 3-4 with a double. He hit two of those balls well, while the other found a hole between third and shortstop. He also made a diving catch in the fifth inning to end the frame. Lewis is definitely a notch below the top group but he has some tools, namely speed and defense. He looks like he can hit, just not with any power like the top guys.
**Vince Payne pitched the ninth and was not only wild, but he got hit hard. He was throwing 88-90, occasionally mixing in an off-speed pitch that wasn’t getting over for strikes. He was responsible for three runs in the inning and took the loss, nearly giving up a walk-off grand slam to Ryan Howard with one out, before giving up the game-winning hit to Chris Duffy that scored the final two runs.