When Austin Hansen kicked off his career in the Astros organization in the summer of 2018, he reached three innings in only three of his 14 appearances. Those stints were enough to convince Houston brass, however, that the former University of Oklahoma reliever had a future as a starter.
When Hansen reported for 2019 Spring Training, he was told the news, and the 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander has responded. An eighth-round pick in 2018, Hansen is 4-1 with a 1.14 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with Quad Cities in seven appearances, five of which have been as the starter. He's struck out 40 and walked 16, allowing only one homer in 31 1/3 innings.
Hansen -- who threw five hitless innings on April 23 and fired seven one-hit frames two starts later -- admitted it's been a process to build himself up and pick up a starter's regimen. He's also had to add a changeup and breaking pitch to his arsenal.
"It was more of a mental challenge," Hansen said. "As a reliever, you go in and throw as hard as you can for one inning. That was my experience in college, to go in and strike out three guys in one inning, and then my work would be done.
"Now as a starter, you have to switch that mind-set to now you have to be able to go deep in a game to save the bullpen. You still strike the guys out, but you do it in different ways. Instead of using two pitches, you use four pitches, and you face guys two, three or four times."
Video: Hansen's fifth K for Quad Cities
As a reliever for the Oklahoma Sooners, Hansen relied on a fastball and slider. Adding a changeup and curve was necessary to go deeper in games and get talented pro hitters out the third time he faced them.
"The changeup was a lot of hard work," Hansen said. "In college, I didn't really throw it. It was kind of like a slow fastball. So the changeup was a big adjustment for me."
Having a reliever's mind-set in the past is an advantage.
"I miss being a reliever a little bit," Hansen said. "Coming in with the game on the line and guys on the bases … it really gets your adrenaline going. As a starter, you hope you don't have to be in those situations and you have less stressful innings. At the same time, if I get in a situation, I feel that I have the mind-set to get out of a jam."
Hansen didn't know that he was going to be a starter during the offseason, but he took advantage of having a chance to talk to Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey about pitching when they were working out together at Oklahoma.
"It was great to be able to talk to guys like that about what it takes to have success," Hansen said. "Homer Bailey talked about having a set routine, and to do that routine every day. Even when you have a bad outing, you stick to those routines so you know what will get you on the right track."
2019 MiLB include
Quad Cities pitching coach Erick Abreu said Hansen is on the right track as a starter.
"When you have a guy like Austin with that talent, it wasn't that hard for him to switch to a starter," Abreu said. "The first thing we checked, he has the shape of the pitches, he has the ability to command his pitches in the strike zone and he has the heart to go out and compete very well.
"Physically, we had to be careful, because he's a young guy, so you don't want to go too fast. You try to build his strength up. You go one inning, and then three innings, and then four innings and so on. Mentally, it was a matter of teaching him and getting him used to handling the fatigue of going longer in games, getting to know how to compete when he starts getting a little tired. He's pretty good at figuring those things out."
Home game, finally: The River Bandits, who have the best record in the Midwest League (28-13) despite playing 40 of 43 games on the road, are scheduled to play a home game on Friday, May 24. The Bandits were turned into road warriors due to flooding and issues related to the Canadian Pacific Railroad elevating tracks to help trains when flooding occurs on the Mississippi River.
Loons soaring: Great Lakes has skyrocketed to a 27-15 record after starting out 7-11. The Loons picked up their sixth consecutive victory with an 11-8 victory against Lansing on May 21. The Loons cranked out four homers in the game, including two by Niko Hulsizer, who leads the Midwest League in long balls with 10.
Weathers outlook: Left-hander Ryan Weathers, the Padres' top pick in 2018, returned to the mound Monday for the first time since April 28. Weathers was sidelined after being pulled from his last game with what was called "dead arm." On Monday, Weathers pitched 2 2/3 innings and hit 95 mph on the scoreboard radar. He started the game and threw 47 pitches -- 31 for strikes -- and allowed one run on four hits, striking out three. He was listed as healthy by the TinCaps after the outing.