Four of the five earned runs Brad Hand allowed in 23 games and 22 innings pitched in 2020 came in the 30-year-old left-hander’s first three appearances of the season.
After that rough start, the 10-year veteran gave up just one earned run (and three runs total) in 20 games and 19 2⁄3 IP, over which he put up a 0.46 ERA, three walks, 25 strikeouts, and a .147/.183/.221 line against.
“I started off the season kind of rough,” Hand said in a Zoom call on Tuesday, after his new, 1-year/$10.5M deal with the Washington Nationals was officially announced.
“My first week of the season didn’t necessarily go how I planned, but just got comfortable, got in a good rhythm probably a few weeks into the season and then after that everything started [working] for me.”
Hand finished the year with a 2.05 ERA, 1.37 FIP, four walks (1.64 BB/9), and 29 Ks (11.86 K/9), holding opposing hitters to a .169/.226/.260 line in his third season in Cleveland.
“My walk rate was very low this year, so I was minimizing the baserunners, and then when I would get in situations, I just found ways to get out of it,” he said in discussing his success.
“Just kind of really beared down on the situations ... and obviously it was a tough year for everybody, just everything that was going on, but every team had to deal with it, so just to try to keep that same mindset just to go out there and compete and battle every single day.”
Once the season ended, Hand was placed on outright waivers, and after he went unclaimed his $10M option for 2021 was declined, and a $1M buyout made him a free agent.
Things did start off slow, he said, but the market picked up before he finally agreed to sign his one-year deal with the Nationals.
“This was my first time going through free agency,” Hand said when asked about the whole process, “so I don’t really know what it would be like without the year that we had last year, but it was definitely slow in the beginning.
“The Nationals showed interest and then probably over the last few weeks it really started to heat up and gain some traction.
“So it was a different experience for sure,” he said. “Hopefully in a normal year it would have gone differently, but I’m happy to be a National and hopefully we’ll win a World Series.”
Signing on with a team that has postseason aspirations, the veteran reliever acknowledged, was a consideration when he decided on a new home, after pitching in the playoffs twice in in his big league career (2018-2020) to this point.
“For sure, it’s big,” Hand explained. “Obviously the moves that the Nationals made already this offseason, bringing in [Kyle] Schwarber and [Josh] Bell, two big moves there, and then with the starting rotation that they’ve got, I think we’ve got a good chance to go deep into the playoffs. That was big.
“Obviously this is going to be one of the tougher divisions in baseball, competition-wise, so we’re going to have to be ready to go and prepared for that, but I think I like our chances.”
Hand got to work early this offseason, with a focus on regaining some of the velocity he has lost in the last two years, and coming off a campaign in which his workload was significantly down from previous seasons.
He won’t have to travel far for his first Spring Training with his new team.
“I live down here in West Palm Beach,” Hand told reporters. “So I’m real close to the Spring Training complex.
“I work out at the Cressey [Sports Performance] place down here,” he added, “so there are a few Nationals guys that go in there that I’ve known just from working out there.”
“I know Max [Scherzer] from down here. I saw [Patrick] Corbin this morning actually in there. [Austin] Voth is in there. And then there’s a bunch of minor league guys that are in the organization that are down there. It’s funny, me and Max were actually — during quarantine — playing catch on the side of the road down the street here. I’ve known him just from him moving down here and seeing him at the gym a little bit.
Hand said he’ll have some folks to lean on and ask for help as he gets adjusted to the new environment, and he’s going to be ready to go when he makes the trip to FITTEAM Ballpark.
“I started throwing earlier this year,” Hand said, “just with the short season I started getting on the mound a little bit earlier. I’m probably five or six bullpens in already. Just continuing to throw. I think next week I’m going to start facing live hitters. So everything is going real well and I feel like I’m in a good spot where I’m at right now.”