PITTSBURGH -- When Tommy Hanson arrived as the game's top pitching prospect midway through the 2009 season, there was some hope he would anchor the Braves' rotation for many years to come.
Three years later, there is reason to wonder if Hanson will even fit into the Braves' plans beyond this year.
Hanson certainly did not provide the Braves any more reason for confidence as he concluded a frustration-filled season with a less-than-inspiring performance in Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.
"I definitely wanted to pitch better," Hanson said. "It wasn't the way I wanted to end it. The first two innings were tough and so was the fifth. It was not the way I wanted to finish. But it is what it is and I've got to try to learn from it."
This was a season filled with lessons for Hanson, who began altering his delivery in January with the hope to avoid the shoulder and back discomfort that had forced him to miss the final two months of the 2011 season.
But the opportunity to perfect the new delivery was delayed when the 26-year-old pitcher suffered a concussion when he was involved in a one-car accident on the way to the first day of Spring Training for Braves' pitchers and catchers.
The accident was just the start of the struggles for Hanson, who managed to record 13 wins despite posting a career-high 4.48 ERA and surrendering 10 more home runs than he had in any of his three previous Major League seasons.
"For a guy that might not have had his best stuff of his career in the Major Leagues, he still found a way to win some ballgames, which is good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You like to see that stuff."
After Hanson allowed the Pirates five runs and nine hits in six innings, Gonzalez said, "he just left some pitches out over the plate, but he gave us six innings."
When Gonzalez named Hanson his Opening Day starter, he certainly did not envision that he would compliment him for going "six innings" in his final start. But this was the only time in Hanson's final eight starts that he reached that total. He compiled a 5.69 ERA in his final 13 starts of the year.
"I felt like I made some adjustments and they were fine in Spring Training," Hanson said. "Then I had to make some more adjustments because I wasn't pitching the way I wanted to pitch. I feel you always have to make adjustments and find a way to get better. I've been trying to do that all year."
As the Braves prepare to go to a four-man rotation for the postseason, it appears Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm will serve as their starting pitchers. Moving beyond the playoffs, these four pitchers will likely also assume four spots in the five-man rotation to begin next year.
With Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran also bidding for a spot in Atlanta's rotation, there is no guarantee that Hanson returns next year. Hanson has compiled a 4.96 ERA in the 36 starts that he has made dating back to the 2011 All-Star break.
"I don't know what my role's going to be or what the plan is [for the postseason]," Hanson said. "So I guess I'll find that out tomorrow or the next day. We'll figure out what the plan is, move forward and do whatever I can to help the team in whatever capacity that might be."
Garrett Jones' two-run home run highlighted the Pirates' three-run fifth inning. Jones' towering shot over the right-field wall was the 27th home run that Hanson surrendered this season.
With his team having nothing left to play for other than pride, Gonzalez opted to rest most of his regular position players in preparation for Friday night's one-game playoff against the National League's other Wild Card entry, the Cardinals. St. Louis secured its spot in the postseason when Los Angeles lost to San Francisco on Tuesday night.
Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Correia allowed one run and six hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Braves' depleted lineup. The Braves' only run came courtesy of the doubles that Lyle Overbay and Juan Francisco hit in the fourth inning.
"It seems like when you go into the offseason on a bad note, you can't stop thinking about it for weeks," Correia said. "So it's nice to go out on a positive note."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.