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Have faith in Joel Hanrahan

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made Joel Hanrahan his closer before the 2011 season, the decision was not met with universal acclaim, especially when Hanrahan was lit up in spring training.

"People were calling for my head," Hanrahan said. "I think I went out and I was giving up home runs every game. I was having a terrible spring."

He imagines that the reaction this spring back in New England isn't much different, given the early returns: nine runs (six earned) in three outings, including a four-run shellacking Thursday that began with a walk and was followed by four straight hits before he fanned his last batter. Heck, even the college team, Northeastern, scored a run off Hanrahan this spring.

"They're probably not having a lot of fun," Hanrahan said, referring to his new fan base. "They probably don't like me quite yet.

"It's nothing I'm too worried about. All you got to do to win them back is go into New York and get a couple of saves, I think they'll be all right."

That awful spring (0-2, 6.75 ERA, 3 home runs in 10 2/3 innings) Hanrahan had in Pittsburgh? Quickly forgotten after he registered four saves in the Pirates' first six games, had eight saves by the end of April, was named to the All-Star team in July, and as late as Aug. 15 had an earned run average of 1.01.

He finished the season with 40 saves, and followed that with 36 saves and another All-Star appearance in 2012. Immediately after his trade from Pittsburgh, Hanrahan was anointed Boston Red Sox closer by manager John Farrell, who learned during his time in Toronto that it's preferable to name a closer rather than holding an open competition in camp. Farrell tried that in 2011, his first season with the Jays, and wound up with an erratic triple option of Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco.

"Spring training is not my best part," said Hanrahan, who said he plans to leave camp on Sunday to be with his wife, Kim, who on Monday is scheduled to give birth to the couple's first child.

"I'm lucky I didn't put in her in labor today," Hanrahan said. "She's at the doctor's, so she couldn't watch."

Got a name picked out?

"Ryan," he said.

After Nolan Ryan? Ryan Dempster?

"It's my middle name," he said. "I like it. I mean, I like Nolan Ryan, too. Definitely not Ryan Doumit after today."

Doumit, who was one of Hanrahan's catchers in Pittsburgh the last two seasons, had the first of four straight hits off Hanrahan, all singles, after a leadoff walk to Josh Willingham.

"I felt great, I felt fine," Hanrahan said. "I was a little ticked off it didn't go the way we planned. I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand pretty good, but it was still missing a little notch of life to it. That's something that comes in spring training.

"Fortunately, I kept the ball down or else there might have been a couple hit on -- what is that, Six Mile Cypress out there?"

Just one month in the Fort, and Hanrahan aces his geography.

"I was just missing over the middle," he said. "Unfortunately an ugly day."

Hanrahan said he plans to hit the reset button after he returns from welcoming Ryan to the Hanrahan clan.

"I've got to take it like I got two spring trainings," he said. "I feel good, but when I come back I'm going to put my foot down and start getting people out."

Spring training under the best of circumstances is a pale imitation of the regular season. For closers, it's even less like the real thing. Instead of last call, the closer often is summoned as early as the fourth inning (which was the case Thursday for Hanrahan), so that he can face at least some big league hitters, instead of the minor league extras who are usually in the lineup by game's end.

"You can make up excuses all day if you want to," Hanrahan said. "For me, you're still trying to get people out and put up a zero, no matter where you're at. Can you emulate the ninth inning at Fenway or Yankee Stadium? No, that's just impossible to do here.

"That's something fortunately a lot of us have done before, so we know how to handle that situation when it comes. It's a little different where there's 40,000 people, but really in spring training you're still trying to get people out. Not making any excuses. Just a bad day."

What spring training can be, however, is a time for experimenting, and Hanrahan is trying to incorporate something different into his repertoire. Two years ago, he complemented his 97-mph fastball with a slider he threw in the 82-84 range. Last season, he shelved the slider in favor of a cut fastball that had slider action but was thrown at a higher velocity, 3-4 mph faster than his slider.

This spring, he said, he has been throwing both pitches.

"I'm trying to figure out how to use both of them," he said. "I feel good with both of them. My slider wasn't that great today, but I still threw some good ones. I just didn't get the chases and swings-and-misses on them.

"I like to use both of them, maybe start a guy off with a slider and finish him off with a cutter. In 2011, the Pirates were really preaching on throwing in to guys and that wasn't my strength, so I tried to get a cutter to throw in on lefties, try to get them from leaning across the plate.

"This game is all about change. You've got to come up with new things once in a while."

Still, the bottom line is this: It's risky to judge any pitcher strictly on results, especially a closer. Former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began the day with a 43.80 ERA.

"Mine's not that high, I don't think," said Hanrahan, who quickly did some calculating. "Four runs today, six earned runs total, three innings, mine's 18."

Geography, math, Hanrahan can do it all. And soon enough, that will show on the mound, too. He promises.