Blue Jays trade for veteran relief pitcher Brad Hand

Jul 27, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Brad Hand (52) throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Brad Hand (52) throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Toronto Blue Jays acquired left-handed relief pitcher Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals ahead of Friday’s trade deadline

The Toronto Blue Jays, a day before the trade deadline, made yet another move on Thursday to bolster their beleaguered bullpen.

The Blue Jays are acquiring veteran left-hander Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals in exchange for catcher Riley Adams, the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty reports. The 31-year-old has a 3.59 ERA and 21 saves in 41 appearances for the Nationals. A free agent after this season, he signed with Washington on a one-year, $10.5 million deal last offseason.

Hand has been one of baseball’s elite closers since 2017, saving 50 games the past two years for Cleveland; he led the American League with 16 saves in 2020. With the Blue Jays, he’ll become a favourite option for manager Charlie Montoyo out of the bullpen, capable of retiring both left-handers and right-handers.

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His primary pitch is a big breaking slider that has above-average movement. He also throws a four-seam fastball that averages 93 mph and a sinker. When his pitches are working, Hand can be unhittable. In 15 appearances in June, he only gave up three runs and held opponents to a .158 average. He began the season by not surrendering a run over his first nine appearances.

Hand goes to Toronto hoping to snap out of a slump

But he’s also prone to periods of inconsistency, and that’s shown itself over the past week. Hand has given up six runs in four outings since July 21. He’s walking 15 percent of the batters he faces in July; last month, that rate was six percent. Since July 18, he’s walking 9.5 batters per nine innings, in the bottom 10 among qualified relief pitchers.

On July 25 against the Orioles, Hand blew a ninth-inning lead by hitting a batter, issuing a walk to load the bases with nobody out, and giving up two runs in a 5-4 Baltimore win. The Nationals gave him another chance the following day in Philadelphia; he gave up a double to Jean Segura on a sinker left up in the zone, and a walk-off home run to Andrew McCutchen on another hanging sinker. That was the bad. On Tuesday, he struck out McCutchen looking to end the game on a slider that caught the bottom of the zone.

Hand’s statistics have been trending in the wrong direction this season. His swing-and-miss rate on his slider, a pitch he throws more than 43 percent of the time, is down more than 13 points compared to 2020 and 17 points versus his All-Star 2019 season. He struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings between 2016-2020; this year, he’s at 8.9. But that last pitch to McCutchen, an unhittable slider and the last one he ever threw in a Nationals uniform, is a sign that he can still be a dominant reliever.

Going to Washington is Adams, the Blue Jays 17th-ranked prospect who went 3-28 in 12 games after earning a call-up to the big leagues in June. The Blue Jays organization is well-stocked at the catcher position, with Alejandro Kirk, Reese McGuire, and prospect Gabriel Moreno. There wasn’t room for all of them, and Adams is the odd-man-out.

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The Blue Jays approach the trade deadline at 50-48 and 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. They’re 6-12 in one-run games and have lost 16 games when leading in the seventh inning. The bullpen was an area of need; they addressed it on Thursday.

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