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Washington Nationals finally get Brad Hand on the mound for 2021 debut

It was a non-save situation a half-inning before the Dodgers’ sweep of the three-game set was complete, but Brad Hand finally made his 2021 debut on Sunday.

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Brad Hand averaged 92.8 MPH with his fastball, got it up to 93.5 a few times, which the scoreboard in LA apparently rounded up to 94, and retired the Los Angeles Dodgers in order in the the top of the eighth inning on Sunday.

Hand threw a quick, 11-pitch, seven-strike, 1-2-3 frame in his 2021 debut after he landed on the COVID-IL before Opening Day.

Hand’s fastball velocity was up from an average of 91.4 MPH in 2020’s 60-game campaign, which was a focus for the left-hander this winter, and a good sign that the work paid off at least in his initial appearance, especially considering it came after a two-week layoff as he waited to get cleared to return to the club he signed a 1-year/$10.5M free agent deal with this winter.

“I think it was pretty good,” Hand said of his fastball velocity. “92-94 today, I don’t think I — maybe I hit 94 once of twice last year. So the two weeks off, not throwing in games, and hitting that today was pretty good to see, so I feel like I’m in a good spot and just trying to keep it going.”

Unfortunately for the Nationals, Hand’s first appearance came in the eighth inning of a 3-0 game in the Dodgers’ favor, but his manager, Davey Martinez, wanted to get him out there in spite of the situation.

“Hand came in and did exactly what we thought he would when we got him,” Martinez said.

“He looked good. It was nice to see him out there, it really was. And he needed to go out there and pitch today because he hasn’t gotten very much work, so we wanted to get him in the game.”

“It felt normal,” Hand said of his first game action since Spring Training ended. “Obviously I hadn’t been in a game in two weeks, but tried to stay in shape, keep the arm moving when I was out for a little bit. Good to get in a game, finally, and everything went pretty well today.”

Hand said he wasn’t able to do much while he was in quarantine, but he tried to stay sharp as possible while waiting to get cleared to return.

“I kept throwing,” he explained. “I threw against a fence a few times. I went and had one inning in Fredericksburg, other than that not a whole lot.

“Just doing some running, doing some stuff outside, but just tried to stay ready [for] when we were able to play.”

Hand flew out early Friday morning to join the team in LA when he was reinstated from the IL, and he said in spite of the layoff, he was ready to go that night if the Nats needed him to.

“Yeah, I was ready to pitch,” he said. “I was up in the top of the ninth in case we tied that game. So I was coming into the game if we tied it up.

“It was good to get a nice little bullpen in to prepare for today, but glad to get in there today and kind of build off that one.”

It is, of course, a weird way to start the season with his new team, but it’s been a weird year-plus for everybody, so he just did what he could to keep himself ready.

“I mean it definitely didn’t start out on a great note, missing the first few games, but glad to be able to meet the team here in LA and get in the game and kind of join the season.

“It’s exciting, obviously we’ve got a lot of games left to play. Still getting to know everybody, but I’m excited to be with the team.”

He liked where the velocity was at in his first appearance, but how does he try to maintain it going forward?

“I’m not doing anything necessarily different during the season,” he said.

“I just took the offseason to kind of trying to build things up. During the season It’s all about staying healthy and staying ready to pitch. So you can’t do as much of the stuff that you’d like to do during the season if you’re pitching a lot, so just trying to maintain it and keep the arm feeling good is the big part.”