Brad Hand’s fastball velocity is up a tick, from 91.4 MPH on his four-seamer and 91.5 MPH on his sinker in 2020 to 91.8 and 91.7 average, respectively, early this season. His velocity was a focus for Hand this winter, so even a minor increase is a positive sign his work paid off.
The 31-year-old closer, who signed a 1-year/$10.5M free agent deal this winter, has thrown a total of six scoreless innings, walking two and striking out five, while holding opposing the hitters he’s faced to a combined .150/.292/.200 line thus far. The spin rate on his slider is up, (2498 up from 2385 last season), and no one has a hit off the pitch so far. So, that’s all good and interesting news.
But, seriously, how did he decide on his walk-up song? Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys?
“I’ve never picked a walk-out song,” Hand told reporters after earning the second of his three saves in three save opportunities thus far this season.
“When I was in San Diego I never picked one,” he explained further. “I just always had the PR guy pick it. And I changed it one game and I ended up giving up a run that game and a teammate that I had at that point was like, ‘Why did you change your walk-out song?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know. I figured I would pick one, I’ve never picked one.’ So I’ve always just let whoever pick them, so that’s the one I had in Cleveland last year, the PR guy picked it out and we just roll with it again.”
So, clearly, he’s put a lot of thought into it, and picked a song that means something to him and gets really gets him going for his appearan —
“I’ve never just found something that either gets me going — I feel like I don’t need something to get me going,” Hand said.
“I’m pretty fired up going into the game regardless, so the music is not really going to get me to a different point where I need to be.
“I picked the genre. I said old school rap, so that’s what he went with though.”
Okay. Whatever. We can roll with it. But is there any extra adrenaline in an appearance like Tuesday night’s when he was warming for the top of the ninth, with the team behind by a run and they took the lead? So it was suddenly a save situation.
Does that provide a boost for him going to the mound?
“It doesn’t really change much,” Hand said. “Just preparing, preparing for the hitters coming up.”
Man, he’s unflappable.
“Whether we had the lead or [were] still trailing by one, the goal is still the same, to throw up a zero. Luckily, we got the lead there and was able to close it out.”
But when Cards’ catcher Yadier Molina hit a 1-1 sinker to left for a one-out double, did the approach change with the next few hitters with a runner in scoring position?
“No, just trying to stay aggressive, make quality pitches,” Hand said.
“Obviously, maybe pitch a little more fine, but just stay aggressive in the zone, and yeah.”
Is there a balance, between being “a little more fine” and nibbling and being too fine in those situations?
“I always try to stay aggressive,” Hand explained.
“You know you never want to be falling behind in the count against big league hitters, get them in advantage counts. I think I always try to stay pretty aggressive.
“My slider — been able to locate that pretty well — so I’m able to throw that back door, they kind of give up on it and it’s kind of an easier strike they take.
“I wouldn’t say ‘more fine’, just maybe when I get ahead, pick my spots to expand the zone and stuff like that.”
The fact that Hand’s slider is coming along is a positive development after he struggled to throw it like he wanted this spring. But, apparently, the time he was forced to spend away from the team at the start of the season, after landing on the COVID-IL, reset something for the southpaw, who found he had a feel for it when he returned to the mound at the Nationals’ Alternate Site in Fredericksburg, VA to start building back up after the time off.
“It’s weird,” Hand said. “I felt like in Spring Training my slider was terrible. I don’t feel like I threw a good one the whole time we were in Florida, and then you know I ended up starting on the COVID-IL, and was unable to throw for a few weeks, and the first game I came back after that in Fredericksburg, I felt like my slider was there, so it’s just one of those things where getting back in the game, where just stop trying to do too much with it or something like that, I’ve always had good command of it and always been able to throw it for strikes when I want, so I’m never really that concerned about it, but it was just kind of strange how it was terrible in Spring Training and then it just turned around after that week off.”
Was he concerned going into the season, before the COVID crisis hit the team, that his top which he’s thrown 42.4% of the time so far in 2021, wasn’t where he wanted it?
“I wouldn’t say I was worried about it,” he said. “I just continue to try to throw it and get a better feel for it, and that outing that I had in Fredericksburg, it was really sharp, so I was kind of surprised with it after not throwing to a human for a week, so it was good and I’m happy where it’s at right now.”