Brad Hand had one unearned run cross the plate in his first nine games and 10 innings on the mound this season, with four walks, eight Ks, and a .129/.270/.161 line against over the first month-plus of his 1-year/$10.5M free agent deal with Washington’s Nationals, in which he converted 3 of 3 save opportunities.
Hand, with those three saves in three opportunities, was up to 24 consecutive converted opportunities dating to August 23, 2019, which, according to the Nats’ pregame notes this past weekend, citing the Elias Sports Bureau, was the longest active streak of consecutive save opportunities converted.
In that stretch, Hand had a 0.37 ERA in 24 1⁄3 IP, with one run allowed, 29 Ks, five walks, and a .139 opponents’ batting average (11 for 81).
In two appearances over the weekend, however, the 31-year-old left-hander blew his first save since ‘19, then took the loss in the second of back-to-back appearances in which he struggled with his command and got hit hard (.500/.636/.500 line against vs 11 batters).
Neither Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez or the Nats’ closer knew what to make of the left-hander’s struggles on the mound in Yankee Stadium, where the club dropped 2 of 3 in the series.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Martinez said after Hand gave up three hits, a walk, and two runs, one earned, in an inning-plus of work on Saturday.
“I’m going sit back, I’m going to talk to him and then I’m going to watch some video tonight and see if I see anything.
“For me it’s just like I said, he made some pitches, some really good pitches, got two bloop singles where he jammed both hitters, so that’s just unlucky. And then also he walked the leadoff guy which is tough, then he came back in and fell behind on [Mike] Ford and Ford got the base hit,” which drove in the tying run after the Nationals went ahead in the top of the inning.
“Uncharacteristic he couldn’t find the strike zone,” Martinez said, “... and we sent him back out there to face Ford, who was the lefty, we had [Kyle] Finnegan ready for the righties because [Hand’s] pitch count was up, but he fell behind on Ford as well, Ford got the base hit and Finnegan came in and did a great job.”
“I just had a tough time commanding the fastball there early, falling behind guys, basically that whole inning until I started to feel better as that inning got on,” Hand said.
“I just mechanically was a little bit off right there and I had a tough time commanding my fastball.”
In the series finale with the Yankees, Hand came on in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at 2-2 and walked the first two batters he faced before giving up a one-out, walk-off, RBI single.
Martinez said before the game that he intended to get Hand back out there if there was a save opportunity, but as he explained after the second consecutive loss in which the lefty struggled, he warmed him up and then used him rather than sit him down and not be able to have him throw.
“Once we got him up — he had a long outing yesterday, went back out for another inning — and we got him up today, and I thought we can’t sit him back down and get him back up to try to go out there again,” the manager explained, “so we got him in the game, I mean, like I said, he’s our back end of the bullpen guy and it was a good spot for him.”
After Hand struggled again, Martinez said he’d have to take a deeper look at the outings.
“I’m going to really dig in,” he said. “If anything I saw he was a little shorter on his delivery.
“Not much, but that could affect him. I’m really going to take a look at it, but like I said, I mean, we got to get him right, he’s a big part of the back end of our bullpen.”
He had no regrets about sending Hand back out again for a second consecutive day, even after the closer threw an inning-plus the previous day, and Martinez said he would continue to.
“For me, you want to get them back out there, and this was a discussion I had yesterday with after the game. I talked to him and asked him if he was okay, and he said, ‘Get me back out there. I want to be back out there.’ And that’s a testament to who he is. Like I said, he’s been doing really, really well for us, so we’ve got to get him back out there, and we got to get him the ball.”
“I want in there every day,” Hand explained. “That’s why being a reliever is awesome. Once you have a bad one you’re back in there the next day to kind of right the ship.
“Obviously today it didn’t go as planned, but the next game we’ll get it right.”
As for the issues he experienced in the back-to-back outings, Hand said he’s been through it before, and it happens to relievers.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “You’re going to go through stretches like this. As a bullpen guy you’re going to have stretches where things aren’t clicking or things aren’t going your way, but there’s 162 games, and there’s a lot more games left, you just hope you have a lot more good ones than you do bad ones.”
Though he said he’s a pitcher who’s able to put bad outings behind him once he leaves the ballpark, Hand said he had some work to do to identify what was affecting his command in the outings.
“I mean usually when I’m missing, I’m missing arm-side high, which isn’t necessarily the case right now,” Hand said.
“I’ve been missing kind of more down in the zone, which is weirder for me, but I’ll just have to look at the video, see what’s going on, haven’t had chance to do that yet today, but we’ll figure it out and get it right.”
“I’d say [Saturday] it was more of the two-seam fastball,” he continued, “[Sunday] it was the four-seam fastball, so yeah, just not locating it, just not being able to get it to the spots that I want to. If it’s something mechanically or it’s something else I’ll have to figure that out.”
Last night in the nation’s capital, the Nationals handed Hand a 2-1 lead in the ninth, and he came out throwing strikes, getting up 0-2 on the first batter, Andrew Knapp, and striking him out for the first out of the inning. Odubel Herrera stepped in next, however, and hit an 0-1 slider up in the zone out to center for a game-tying home run.
Hand held in there, and the game went into extra innings, but he came back out to face a left-hander, Bryce Harper, and gave up a line drive single to left on a 3-2 slider outside to push the free runner over to third before Kyle Finnegan took over and the Phillies pushed three runs across the plate in what ended up a 5-2 win.
“You know, this is the way I look at it,” Martinez said after the club’s fourth straight loss and their seventh in the last eight games. “We’re going to win together and we’re going to lose together. Brad Hand did not lose the game. So we’re going to stick together. I talked to the boys tonight and we’re going to stay positive.”
“Like I told Brad,” he added, “‘Hey, I’m going to keep putting you out there. You’re our guy, so keep your head up. Don’t get down. This will turn. This will turn, and when it turns it’s going to be a lot of fun.’ I don’t want these guys pouting, I don’t want these guys thinking about anything, I want these guys to go out there and have fun and play baseball. They’re playing hard, just things are just not happening right now.”
“Brad’s track record speaks for itself,” starter Jon Lester said when asked if the club was at all concerned about the closer’s struggles. “It’s such a volatile job down there. You come in and things happen so fast when they do, and you don’t get days in-between to try to figure out what’s going on, you just keep getting thrown out there, so, like I said, nobody is worried about it, he’s going to bail us out of way more situations than the last couple days.
“He’s fine. He’ll be good. He’ll be back to Brad. I guess the one good thing is he’ll be back to being Brad tomorrow. You know, back in there.”
“Brad is a heck of a player, he’s going to be just fine,” Finnegan said.
“It’s a long season. He’s our guy down there, and we’ve got all the support in the world for him, and he’s going to carry us. He’s going to carry us quite a bit this season, so ...”