NEW YORK -- The Tommy Hanson the Angels expected finally showed up on July 23, his first start back after missing a little more than a month with a strain in his right forearm. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, gave up one run, struck out eight batters, walked none and, perhaps most importantly, sat in the 93- to 94-mph range with his fastball, the kind of stuff he hadn't displayed since his 2011 season with the Braves.
Hanson, the Angels hoped, had finally rediscovered himself.
Then he spiraled again, posting an 8.59 ERA over his next three starts and failing to get through the sixth inning each time. And late Monday night, with the Angels needing to kick someone out of their rotation to create a spot for Jason Vargas to make Tuesday's start against the Yankees, Hanson -- 26 and one of the best young pitchers in baseball not too long ago -- was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake.
"It wasn't tough," Hanson said. "I wasn't performing. So I have to work and try to get better."
Hanson was slated to start in the Majors on Tuesday, but he could've easily been pushed back to Friday and Jerome Williams -- with an 8.59 ERA in his last eight starts -- could've gone back to the bullpen, which he's done several times this season. Manager Mike Scioscia decided to demote Hanson, because they already have length in the bullpen with Joe Blanton and because Hanson -- a non-tender candidate in December -- can stay stretched out in the Minor Leagues.
"I think it's best for Tommy and best for us right now," Scioscia said. "He definitely needs to figure some things out. What's tough is when somebody has to go down and try to find their game again, it's disappointing to the player. I know Tommy will take it in the right light and go down there and be a better pitcher when he comes back."
Hanson, acquired from the Braves in a one-for-one deal that sent Jordan Walden to Atlanta in November, is seemingly going backwards, his ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio and WHIP worsening in each of the last three seasons. In 13 starts this season -- a year in which he also missed nearly four weeks while on the restricted list to deal with his stepbrother's death -- he's posted a 5.59 ERA and has had a very hard time controlling the running game.
Somewhere in Triple-A, he hopes to find the guy who showed up to pitch at Angel Stadium on July 23.
"I still do feel like I can do that," said Hanson, who's getting optioned to the Minors for the first time since 2009.
"When he came back and pitched against Toronto after the layoff, he was sensational the whole game," Scioscia said. "His stuff, his delivery, times to the plate, fastball command -- all the things that are important to a pitcher, they were there. It seems like his stuff has eroded a little bit in the last couple starts and he feels a little out of sync. Tommy needs to find it."
Vargas, a free agent at season's end and potential trade bait this month, was having a typically solid year in his first season with the Angels, going 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 14 starts.
On June 21, he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his left armpit area. Five days later, he had invasive surgery that kept him away from throwing for two weeks. And on Thursday -- about six weeks post-op -- he progressed to a rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake, giving up four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
That was plenty, Vargas believes. His arm has been just fine for a while.
"There was nothing wrong with me, except that they just went in and tied it up and closed me off," Vargas said. "I got over that, if there was anything, way back when I started playing catch."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.