In the most critical moment of the Surprise Rangers' season, left-hander Chris Hanna turned in the best performance of his young career.
The 18-year-old entered Friday's contest against the AZL Royals with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 fourth-inning lead. Hanna came in and shut the door, striking out a career-high 10 batters over five scoreless innings. He retired the first 12 hitters he faced and yielded just two singles without issuing a walk.
The dominant outing gave Hanna his first professional victory and, more importantly, extended his club's division lead to 1.5 games with just two remaining.
Manager Jayce Tingler came away impressed with Hanna's ability to come up big in the clutch situation.
"We knew Chris Hanna was a competitor," Tingler said. "In my book, he has taken it to a new level, seeing it in that environment and what he did. Just the way he competed, the way he picked everybody up and got us going. My hat is off to him."
As for Hanna himself––he was pleased with his efficiency.
"I just wanted to go out there and do my job," he said. "I just wanted to let the defense work. I'm glad that I got so many strikeouts, but I just wanted to let my defense do the work and let the offense help out."
Hanna began the summer by pitching two innings at a time, but the more he has performed, the more the club has stretched him out. With a promising three-pitch repertoire, the prospect may be a starting pitcher in the future, and he is now throwing three-to-five innings per outing.
Regardless of his role, the South Carolina native is having an impressive debut summer. As an 11th-round pick that commanded a $100,000 bonus, he is beginning to look like quite the find for the Rangers.
In 27.2 innings for the rookie-level Surprise Rangers this summer, Hanna has surrendered just 20 hits while walking four and striking out 36. The impressive peripherals have led to a 0.98 earned-run average.
Tingler believes the 6-foot-1, 180-pound southpaw was successful on Friday because he located well and threw all three of his pitches with confidence.
"I think all thee pitches that he showed tonight––he kept guys off-balance and he does that by throwing any pitch at any time," said the manager. "The fastball is 91-92 mph, firm, and from the left side. He keeps them honest––keeps them off the fastball by mixing in the curveball and putting them away with the changeup.
"I think the credit goes to Ryan O'Malley and Oscar Bernard for the work they've done with him. He is getting a lot of confidence and hopefully he continues to grow."
As Tingler mentions, Hanna's fastball velocity has reached 91-92 mph with some consistency this summer. The hurler didn't come into pro ball with that kind of velocity––he credits the spike to the Rangers' strength program.
"This is probably the most athletic time I've ever had in my life," Hanna said. "It's good. I just know that, for sure, my body has got way more to grow into."
But velocity isn't the only part of Hanna's game that has improved. Largely a fastball-changeup pitcher in high school, Hanna is seeing plenty of progression from his mid-70s curveball––another stride that he credits to the added strength.
"In high school, my curveball wasn't very strong," he said. "It was real loopy and everything. But ever since I've been here, it has been really starting to break hard. I think that is just from hitting the weight room. It's little things like that, and working with [athletic trainer] T.J. Nakagawa every day. It helps out a lot."
Though Hanna has thrown strikes all summer and he hasn't been hit hard at any point, he says he had trouble with leaving pitches up in the strike zone early on. He has been working on a mechanical adjustment to help him keep the ball down with more consistency.
"My coach, Ryan O'Malley, has been helping me out a lot with my form," he said. "I've been getting my front arm up more. It's making me drop down and keep the ball down. That has been helping me a lot. That was my main deal when I got here in the first place––just leaving the ball up.
"I kept on working down. We worked on keeping it down in bullpens and stuff. If I'm going to miss, I want to miss low. [O'Malley] has been helping me with the little parts of the game, and I really appreciate that from him. It has been helping me a lot."
Even if the Rookie Rangers were to reach the Arizona League championship game, they would only have four games remaining in the season. But Hanna says his arm is more than ready to keep going.
"[My arm] feels great. I'm ready to go again. Any time."
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Hanna comes up big
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