Alec Hansen was so dominant on Sunday, it seemed everybody at First National Bank Field must have known just how sharp he was. Everybody, that is, except Hansen himself.
"Honestly, when I was pitching, I didn't feel any different than the last several starts," the 10th-ranked White Sox prospect said. "The last several starts, I've been pitching pretty well and I continued that tonight. I didn't know I had 15 strikeouts until the end of the game."
Hansen shattered his career high for strikeouts while cruising through seven innings, allowing one run on a bizarre homer among five hits in Class A Kannapolis' 8-1 win at Greensboro. For the first time in 10 starts this season, he did not issue a walk.
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"That's the biggest thing for me. I knew I had no walks before I knew I had 15 strikeouts," the 22-year-old right-hander said. "That's a good thing."
Hansen improved to 5-3 while lowering his ERA to 2.96 and moving into second place in the South Atlantic League with 67 punchouts, two behind Greenville's Michael Shawaryn. Twenty-five of Hansen's whiffs have come in his last recent 12 innings after he fanned 10 against the Drive on Monday.
"I know we worked on a couple things mechanically and I've been more sharp to start the game and throwing the fastball a little harder. That makes everything else a bit better," said the 2016 second-round pick, who works with a four-pitch mix. "[Sunday], I threw maybe two changeups, but the last couple starts I've thrown almost as many changeups as curves."
Hansen actually fanned four in one inning. After he punched out the first two batters in the third, Aaron Knapp reached on a third strike in the dirt and a throwing error by catcher Seby Zavala. James Nelson followed with a single that moved Knapp to third, but Hansen sat down Boo Vazquez swinging to strand the runners.
"I don't ever remember having four strikeouts in an inning, but I almost wish it was three so we would have been out of it quicker. But I'll take it," he said. "I've been doing pretty well mentally on the mound, not letting things get to me, no matter what happens. That's helped me a lot, I would say even more than changing the mechanics have."
With one out in the fifth, Hansen got ahead of Alex Jones, 0-2, when the Grasshoppers catcher hit a fly ball to left-center field. Left fielder Jameson Fisher and center fielder Joel Booker converged on it, but it bounced off Booker's glove and Fisher's back before clearing the fence for a home run -- the second Hansen has surrendered all season.
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"I think from my view, [Booker] was running back to catch it and it went into his glove and bounced out, and he tried to get it to go back in again, but he nicked it and it rolled over the wall," Hansen said. "They were so close that they almost ran into each other. That's why the situation happened in the first place."
Hansen's improved mentality enabled him to shrug it off and mow down the next two batters to end the inning.
"Off the field, too, just in life, I've had a better mindset, and that's helped." he explained. "Just being calm -- even if a guy gets a hit, if it's hit hard, if I walk somebody, keeping the same attitude."
No. 25 Marlins prospect Justin Twine and Walker Olis strung together consecutive one-out singles in the seventh, but Hansen got Jones to fly out and ended his night by fanning Mason Davis. He threw 76 of 99 pitches for strikes and said he felt no fatigue.
"I felt strong through the whole thing, honestly," Hansen said. "[Intimidators manager Justin Jirschele] didn't tell me I was out of the game until right before I was about to run out [for the eighth]. But I had the feeling my pitch count was pretty high, considering some of the at-bats."
Victor Diaz, the 23rd-ranked White Sox prospect, struck out five in two perfect innings, but even after learning his night was over, Hansen still wasn't sure how many strikeouts he'd piled up.
"I didn't get to go back out [from the clubhouse] and shake hands because the eighth and ninth went by so quickly -- Diaz was really good -- so it wasn't until I looked at my phone," he said. "One of my buddies had jokingly texted, 'Only 15?' That's when I knew."
Fisher, ranked 16th in the White Sox system, went 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, while Zavala went 3-for-4 with a homer, double and three runs scored.