PITTSBURGH -- For the second consecutive year, Bucs closer Joel Hanrahan is headed to the All-Star Game.
The reliever enters Monday's home game against the Astros with a 2.10 ERA and has gone 20-for-22 in save opportunities this season. Hanrahan saved 40 games last year, which makes him one of just four pitchers in baseball with at least 60 saves since the start of 2011.
"The slider, this year, is an absolute wipeout slider," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who called Hanrahan the most consistent and powerful closer he's ever worked with. "It doesn't go east-west. It goes down. There's just bottom to it. So it's another intangible kind of pitch that you can't practice for.
"And he's been ahead in a lot of counts. He's throwing strikes. That differential of speed that you're trying to cover, you've almost gotta cheat for the fastball, and if you get the other one, you're in a bad place if it looks like a strike coming out of his hand."
While Hanrahan has been successful in Pittsburgh, that wasn't always the case earlier in his career while playing for the Nationals. In two and a half seasons in Washington, the closer had a 5.30 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.82, compared with the 2.48 ERA and 3.03 ratio he has achieved with the Pirates.
"Obviously, things in Washington didn't go how I planned for them. I was, basically, every day going to the field wondering if I was going to get released," Hanrahan said. "They called me in and said they had a trade worked out for me. I was excited to get a new opportunity somewhere. Ever since I came here, I didn't really put any pressure on myself, just kind of went out there, just trying to throw strikes and have fun again. That attitude's worked out for me."