Carter Kieboom was part of the first group batters to step in against Brad Hand in live BP this spring.
Kieboom came away impressed with the veteran reliever, who signed a 1-year/$10.5M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals this winter.
“He looks really good,” Kieboom told reporters this week. It was the first time he was facing Hand.
“For day one of live hitters, I’ve never seen him before then, but all I can say is, for my first time seeing him and how he looked against hitters today, he looked very good. Fastball is coming out great.
“His slider, curveball, he looks very sharp right now. It was good. I’m glad I got to see a guy like him today for first day. A guy who knows what he’s doing, he is who he is for a reason, and he’s got it.”
“We need a guy like that out of our bullpen from the left side,” Kieboom added. “He’s going to play a very vital and crucial role on this ballclub this year.”
“Very quiet,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked for his first impressions of Hand in camp, “but works hard. Wants to just help the team win. He’s a team guy. He says he’ll do whatever. But we know what he can do. He’s a back end of the bullpen guy. In a perfect world he’ll be our closer. So we’ll go from there. But he’s all in so far. It’s been good. I love talking to him. Bright guy. And he fits in well with our group.”
Hand finished the 2020 season 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. His 50 saves in the past two seasons are tied for the most in baseball. Since converting to relief work exclusively, the left-hander, “... ranks among left-handed relievers in strikeouts (1st, 434), saves (2nd, 104), strikeouts per 9.0 innings (4th, 12.21), WHIP (6th, 1.07) and ERA (6th, 2.70),” as the Nationals noted in their press release on the signing.
“It’s been going well,” Hand, 30, said of his first week-plus with his new team.
“Obviously we’re a little bit spaced out with the protocols,” he said of the process of getting to know his new teammates, “but just trying to learn everybody, get to know all the coaches and the players, and it’s been going pretty good so far.”
The first step for pitchers, of course, is getting comfortable with their catchers.
Hand has worked with Yan Gomes before, and he’s building a relationship with Alex Avila.
“Obviously the pitcher/catcher relationship is important. It’s nice that I’ve thrown to Yan before, I’ve played with him in Cleveland,” Hand told reporters in a Zoom call from West Palm Beach.
“I threw to Alex my first bullpen. Just trying to learn each other, the way that I like to pitch. Just kind of how to set up as a catcher, just basic stuff like that is easy for us to do.”
Hand said shortly after signing that one of his offseason goals was to get his velocity back up after it fell last season (from an average of 92.7 MPH in 2019 to 91.4 in 2020).
The early returns on his work this spring?
“I threw live two days ago,” Hand said.
“I don’t necessarily know what my velocity was at, but I felt like it was coming out real good, just from the swings I was getting, and the reaction of the hitters, everything seemed to be coming out real good.
“I’ve never been a guy that — in those live batting practices that’s been able to get velocity, so anything when you’re getting swings and just reading the swings you’re getting, I think that it’s coming out pretty good right now.”
If he wants to know where the velo is early this spring, his manager has the info. And he likes what he’s seen so far.
“The ball is coming out,” Martinez said. “What I like? He’s got deception. He’s got a very short arm. Quick arm. And I talked to the hitters, once he gets ready and lets go of the ball, the ball is on you really quick. I get all this information on velo, for me it’s not that important right now, because like I said these guys are getting ramped up, they’re getting built up, but the ball is coming out of his arm pretty good, spin rate has been good so far, so we look at all that stuff. If he wants it, we have it. But it’s good for us to know, myself, but he knows what he needs to do. We’re just going to get him ramped up here and get him ready for the season.”