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Hanson shows he belongs in majors

ATLANTA - Off to as good a major league beginning as any Braves pitcher ever, Tommy Hanson is about to put Gwinnett County completely in his past.

Hanson and roommate Kris Medlen will be moving to Buckhead during the All-Star break to get closer to Turner Field.

There certainly is no need to be next to Gwinnett Stadium anymore. Hanson has shown that he belongs right where he is in the Atlanta rotation.

Most young prospects struggle to live up to the hype, at least initially. The 6-foot-6 right-hander isn't one of them.

If anything, Hanson - named National League rookie pitcher of the month for June - has been even better than advertised. You can't be better than unbeaten.

The 22-year-old from California is 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his five major league games and will take a 20-inning scoreless streak into Saturday's start against the Nationals at Washington.

Hanson is the first Braves rookie pitcher - Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta - to have three consecutive scoreless outings and his 4-0 major league beginning is matched only by Larry McWilliams, who did it in 1978.

The 20-inning scoreless streak is the most by an Atlanta rookie since Pete Smith did the same in 1988.

Even with all Hanson's success, though, the best is yet to come, most around the Braves feel.

"You still really haven't seen Tommy Hanson," Hall of Famer Don Sutton said. "When you do, just think how good he is going to be."

Sutton, the Braves broadcaster who won 324 games during his long career, calls Hanson the perfect pitching package.

"If you were going to build the complete pitcher, you'd want what he brings," Sutton said. "He has the size, he has four pitches, he has nerves and, maybe most importantly, he has the pitching aptitude. He seems to have that innate ability of knowing what to do and when to do it.

"I love his humility away from the spotlight and his gutsiness in the spotlight. He hasn't pitched a game like he did in spring training, but he makes getting out of jams look easy."

Hanson has struggled with his control at times since being promoted from the G-Braves and he hasn't put up big strikeout numbers with Atlanta. But major league opponents are batting just .222 and he has worked out of jams while facing some of baseball's best lineups.

The latest of Hanson's scoreless outings came against the New York Yankees and Boston. The first was at Cincinnati - a notorious hitter's ballpark.

The six-inning blanking of the Red Sox on two hits last Sunday was his most impressive yet. Not only was he facing the team with the best record in the American League, but he was doing it after having the flu.

"He had been sick as a dog," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "No way did I think he was going to pitch."

"If he was sick, I don't want to see him when he's not sick," Boston manager Terry Francona said afterward.

Hanson has a mid-90s fastball, a big-breaking curve, a devastating slider and a developing changeup. But many are just as impressed with his makeup as his wide variety of plus-pitches.

"He's got great poise," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones aid. "You can have all the stuff in the world, but if you have a rock for a brain and not real good nerves, this game is going to get the best of you."

"What stands out as much as his pitches are his mound presence and poise," Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "He doesn't get rattled."

With the G-Braves, Hanson was just 3-3 despite a 1.49 ERA and 90 strikeouts to 17 walks in 661/3 innings. With Atlanta, the impressive stat is his record.

Hanson got a no-decision in debut on June 7 against Milwaukee, but the Braves are 5-0 in his starts. They have a winning record when only one of their other starters takes the mound, going 9-8 in Derek Lowe's starts.

"Tommy has got off track a few times with his control, but he has been able to correct it very quickly," Cox said. "He's been great in tough spots, and I think we'll see him pitch better and better as he goes along. He's got great stuff and his control with it is capable of being great, too."

Hanson has 18 strikeouts to 17 walks in 29 innings and has also hit two batters.

"I've still got a lot of stuff to do before I'm the pitcher I want to be," Hanson said.

"He's frustrated that his control hasn't been better," said Medlen, who was promoted from Gwinnett before Hanson and is now part of the Atlanta bullpen. "Walking batters isn't normal for him. He has great control.

"Once he throws strikes a little more consistently, people will see just how good he can really be. He can overmatch the best hitters, even up here."

That's why Hanson is moving from outside Lawrenceville to Buckhead. He's found a home on the mound in Atlanta and he should be sticking around for a long time.

SideBar: Streaking

Atlanta rookie pitcher Tommy Hanson, who will start Saturday at Washington, has a 20-game scoreless streak. It began during the final 22/3 innings of his first victory at Baltimore on June 12 and has continued in his past three starts, also wins. The streak is the longest for an Atlanta rookie since Pete Smith threw 20 scoreless innings in 1988. Here are Hanson's lines for his past three starts.

Date

Opponent

IP

H

R

Result

June 18

at Reds

6

3

0

7-0 win

June 23

Yankees

51/3

4

0

4-0 win

June 28

Red Sox

6

2

0

2-1 win