By now, Brad Hand is used to the trade speculation. It's not going to stop him from enjoying All-Star week.
He's getting used to that, too.
For the second straight summer, Hand's name has been thrown around in all sorts of trade rumors. And for the second straight summer, Hand has tuned out that noise and earned a trip to the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday.
"There's nothing I can do to control that," Hand said of the trade speculation. "There's nothing I can say that would sway them to do one thing or another. What good does it do to worry about it?"
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Hand's first half has been a bit of a roller coaster. He was the best reliever in the Majors for a stretch in May that earned him the National League Reliever of the Month Award. But he has now blown saves in three of his last eight outings, and he has allowed a run in four of them. His ERA has jumped from 2.25 to 3.05 on the year.
"Sometimes, it appears like closers are struggling, then all of a sudden, they'll rattle off 20 in a row, and you don't notice it, because they're doing what they're supposed to," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said last week. "If you look at his strikeouts in the innings he's pitched, if you look at his stuff, he's as good as he's ever been. Plus, he's being used in big spots."
Indeed, the Padres aren't using Hand as a traditional closer. He has pitched in the eighth inning at times, when the matchups have dictated as much. In that regard, he has been tasked with facing the heart of an opposing lineup, more than most closers -- simply because he's not confined to the ninth. He has still managed to strike out 65 hitters in 44 1/3 innings while racking up 24 saves.
"I hit a little rough patch in the last month," Hand said. "But I wasn't necessarily making terrible pitches. I just made a couple bad pitches in some bad spots, and it came back to hurt me. I know I could be a lot better, and I'll just come back strong in the second half."
Where will Hand be pitching during that second half? A year ago, it seemed like a near certainty that Hand would be moved. His value -- the prevailing belief was -- wouldn't get much higher.
Yet, seemingly it has. Hand signed a team-friendly extension during the offseason, giving the Padres control through the 2021 season. He has reinforced two excellent seasons in San Diego with another solid first half.
Sure enough, the trade chatter has resumed.
"I'm used to it," Hand said. "It's no different than last year. Actually, last year, I think my name was talked about a little bit more, and nothing ended up happening. It is what it is. We'll see what happens."
Last summer, the Padres set a high asking price. It was never met. They've set a similarly high asking price this time around. There might just be a team or two willing to meet it. After all, every postseason contender could use bullpen help, especially an arm as durable and versatile as Hand.
But Hand leaves the speculation to his wife. She follows closely. He doesn't. This week, he's intent on enjoying his time in Washington, D.C. and Nationals Park with his family and fellow All-Stars.
"Just being around all those guys and being in that clubhouse with all those great players and talking to them a little bit -- I'm looking forward to doing that again this year," Hand said. "It's going to be fun. ... I know what to expect, I know what goes on and how everything's run. I'll be relaxed a little bit, take everything in a little more."