Rag ball winner Hanrahan has plans on hold

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Veteran right-hander Joel Hanrahan's arm is off to a slow start this spring, but his glove, and his reflexes, seem to be working just fine.

Hanrahan, whose bullpen session was canceled Monday, won the Tigers' rag ball tournament, beating out Joakim Soria, Angel Nesbitt and Ian Krol in the finals.

"I used to have a theory that the best fielding pitchers were pitchers who didn't throw hard in high school," manager Brad Ausmus said. "So they got balls hit back at them a lot. But Justin Verlander is very good and he obviously threw hard in high school. David Price is very good and he threw hard, and Hanrahan, too.

"So apparently my theory is out the window."

Rag ball is an interesting drill, though borderline medieval. The pitchers line up 40 feet away from coach Omar Vizquel and become essentially the backstop for his soft-toss hitting session. Trying to simulate come-back liners and one-hoppers, Vizquel whacks somewhat softer than normal balls (Easton Incrediballs) served up by coach Matt Martin at them.

"We used to do it when I was in Pittsburgh," Hanrahan said. "(Pitching coach and noted prankster) Roger McDowell would do it, too, only he'd use real balls. He stood further away, though."

It was the second year in a row a Tigers pitcher wearing No. 44 won the event. Joba Chamberlain won it last year.

Arm issues

But back to the more pressing matter, Hanrahan's throwing program is on hold for now after the Tigers canceled his bullpen session.

"We're all on the same game plan in that there are going to be times when I need a day or two. Today is one of those days," he said. "Hopefully with treatment and working with these trainers we can get right."

Hanrahan cut his first bullpen session short Friday and was given an extra day between sessions. The arm still wasn't right Monday and no other session has been scheduled.

"It's just sore," he said. "Just trying to be cautious with it. It's been a long road. There's no need to rush out and try to get ready for a spring training game. The ultimate goal is to be able to help the team at some point this year. If it's April 1, that's great. If it's not, then hopefully down the road. It's still February. No need to rush."

The Tigers expected Hanrahan's development would be slow. It's been more than two years since he had a brutal, three-pronged surgery to repair a tendon, a ligament and bone spurs in his elbow. They knew it would take time to rebuild arm strength.

Still, it's been a discouraging start.

"We are hoping he gets healthy enough to return to the form somewhat of what he was and join the bullpen," Ausmus said. "There is no rush to any of that. If he doesn't feel right then we have to take our time."