Hanrahan Back to Square One

VERO BEACH, Fla.- Early this year, free agent signings put the Dodgers over the 40-man limit on their roster so they designed righthander Joel Hanrahan for assignment. Now, here's a guy that three years ago was considered the best pitching prospect in the organization, the one every other team clamored for in trade talks. Yet, this time around, nobody even bothered claiming him.

Talk about a comedown! He was the baseball equivalent of Ben Affleck, who one year seemed to be in every movie made, yet virtually disappeared from the screen the next.

Hanrahan accepted it all phlegmatically. "Most of the teams had their rosters set by then and, let's face it. I didn't have a great year," he allows. So, he accepted a minor league assignment that didn't even contain an invitation to spring training with the big club. That puts him back where it all began.

His decline started the spring of 2004, his first after being placed on the parent roster. However, he developed tendinitis and couldn't throw at all.

Finally, back in reasonably good health, he could pitch again, only to come down with something worse. Let's call it "LasVegasitis". You won't find it in any medical journal but it seems to infect the clubhouse in that city for some darn good pitchers begin to look like they're the fat guy throwing to the kids at the company picnic.

Hanrahan's a fly ball pitcher, the most dangerous kind in that locale, and before he was done, 22 balls kept on going out of the yard. So, "Edwin Jackson and I tried to become sinker ball pitchers. That's not my style."

To do so, he changed his arm action which, naturally, affected every pitch he threw. He became labored, forced instead of the easy, fluid thrower he'd been before. His arm ached, too. Jackson had to retreat to Jacksonville to regroup. Joel was all the way back at Vero Beach in 2005. That's where he had delivered two no-hitters three years before when he was climbing to his lofty status.

He pitched well enough to move up to Jacksonville but he hardly resembled the man who'd won Southern League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2003. Working hard with coach Kenny Howell he was able to get his fast ball up to 92 mph once more but his delivery still was strained.

As a result, he spent a good part of this past off-season in Texas working with a pitching guru. Now, "I think we've got things going right again," he asserts. "I'm back to my old motion and I feel good."

What's more, organizational pitching instructor Marty Reed is encouraged, too.

"I don't know about the off-season but we have worked on some things down here and I've seen good results. Oh, he's only throwing 89-90 right now, not the 94 he could hit before but he is throwing much better than last year. And, remember, he's still young enough to come back."

If so, the Dodgers have themselves a prime prospect once more for he's only 24 with more than enough time for a comeback. And if he gets back to anything like that form, all those clubs that passed on him this time around will be on the phone once more making offers for his services.