Blue Jays: Don’t panic yet on new reliever Brad Hand
The Toronto Blue Jays made some headlines last week prior to the trade deadline, adding a few different pitchers to the current roster to help with the club’s postseason chances this season. While the news was dominated mostly by the acquisition of starter Jose Berrios, the Blue Jays also added two relievers to the fold in southpaw Brad Hand and veteran right-hander Joakim Soria.
Drafted by the Florida Marlins (before they changed their name to the Miami Marlins) in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft, Brad Hand began his career as a starter but started to transition to the bullpen in 2014/2015, becoming a full-time reliever in 2016 with the San Diego Padres.
As a member of the Padres, Hand really found his groove, keeping his ERA below 3.00 through two seasons before being traded to the Cleveland Indians with RHP Adam Cimber (now a member of the Blue Jays as well) midway through the 2018 season. The Minnesota product has 126 saves throughout his career and has been primarily used as a closer since 2017, crafting a career 3.66 ERA through 439 outings.
This year, Hand joined the Washington Nationals via free agency was the team’s closer prior to being traded to the Blue Jays. With the Nats, the southpaw pitched to a 3.59 ERA through 41 appearances and 42.2 innings, striking out 42 batters compared to 18 walks. He also pitched to a 1.15 WHIP during that time.
One of the Blue Jays newest relievers is off to a rough start in Toronto, with Brad Hand earning the loss yesterday after giving up three runs (two earned) in the tenth inning against the Cleveland Indians.
Recently, Hand has not been pitching well, struggling through his last six games to the tune of eight earned runs and three walks with three strikeouts. As a member of the Blue Jays, the left-hander has appeared in two games so far and has pitched to mixed results.
His first appearance was in the eighth inning on July 30th against the Kansas City Royals, where he gave up hits to the first two batters with a Bo Bichette throwing error bringing in one unearned run. He would then finish the inning without allowing another run on three flyouts/lineouts.
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His second appearance was against the Cleveland Indians yesterday, as he would come in the tenth inning with a runner on second and the score tied at two apiece. Hand would allow the runner to score on a base hit after a pitch to the backstop moved the runner to third before surrendering a two-run home-run to Jose Ramirez, putting Cleveland ahead by three runs (two earned) before getting three straight outs (one was a strikeout).
Unfortunately for Hand, he was put into a tough position yesterday with a runner on second, the ball to the backstop that I wouldn’t say was entirely his fault, and then giving up a home run to a pretty tough batter in Ramirez, a switch hitter who just squared up a high fastball to clang it off the foul pole, putting Cleveland ahead and handing the lefty the loss.
While it was a tough situation for Hand, it is one he has been in multiple times throughout his career, especially since becoming the Padres, Indians, and Nationals closer over the past four seasons.
The more concerning part is that since July 21, Hand has been hit around and just has not been pitching well prior to joining the Blue Jays. Considering the club’s bullpen has been one of the weaker areas as of late, Hand was brought in to be the veteran presence in the relief corps and was hopefully going to be a considerable upgrade over other internal options the Blue Jays have relied on this season.
While you can’t judge a pitcher in just two brief outings, it is something to keep an eye on as the Jays continue to claw towards a spot in the postseason this year, especially since Hand was brought in as a rental for the bullpen. What makes this loss a little tougher to swallow is that Cleveland was a team the Jays could have beat, which is something you cannot solely blame on Hand considering the batting order only generated two runs off of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run for the entire game.
Fans were quick to bemoan the left-hander’s outing yesterday on social media, but one thing to remember is that Brad Hand is a veteran pitcher with closing experience and fans will hopefully see a turnaround sooner rather than later. The Blue Jays will need the 2017-2020 version of the southpaw if they want to rely on him in high-leverage situations over the next two months (and possibly longer).
If the left-hander continues to struggle over the next month, it will be tough to see the club keep using him in the later innings and fans could turn on him as they did with Tyler Chatwood when he couldn’t figure out his struggles, which makes sense as the team tries to contend this post-season.
Hopefully, this isn’t the case and Hand is just getting over the nervousness of joining the Blue Jays and their excited fanbase at the Rogers Centre and he settles down to be the effective reliever the club was expecting to get from the Nationals. If he turns in Chatwood 2.0, he could be run out of the building sooner than later by a fanbase who is not excepting anything less than a playoff spot this year.