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Hand taking care of arm; J-Ram's foot OK

@MandyBell02
February 20, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Brad Hand came out of the gate as hot as ever last season, going 22-for-22 in save opportunities and limiting hitters to a .161 batting average through his first 35 appearances. But then the wheels slowly started to fall off the cart. By the time

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Brad Hand came out of the gate as hot as ever last season, going 22-for-22 in save opportunities and limiting hitters to a .161 batting average through his first 35 appearances. But then the wheels slowly started to fall off the cart.

By the time the calendar flipped to September, the lefty was shut down for two weeks with arm fatigue. Now, the Tribe is trying to figure out how to prevent the same thing from happening in 2020.

"He came out last spring throwing so hard," manager Terry Francona said. "I remember his first bullpen, I looked at [pitching coach] Carl [Willis], like, 'My God. Midseason form.' I think he's trying to ramp that down a little bit, but his breaking balls are at the level they've been when he's at his best -- vertical break, horizontal break and all that, which is good. What we'd like him to do is build into velocity rather than just be there on Feb. 17. And then maybe the multiple innings early on, try to stay away from that, if possible."

Hand said he's been going through his regular spring routine the same way he has in the past. The big change that the soon-to-be 30-year-old has made is adding more trips to the training room to take extra care of his left arm.

"I've never had any arm issues," Hand said. "I wasn't really a big training room guy in the first place. I'd get treatment and stuff here and there, it was just never something I've had to deal with before. So this year, I'll take a few more steps to stay ahead of it. I'm getting older, maybe that's something to do with it. Just trying to stay ahead of it and stay consistent with it."

When Hand started to realize his left arm wasn't quite bouncing back the way it was at the beginning of the season and his velocity was starting to dip, he also noticed that his arm slot was dropping lower and lower. He took time over the offseason to build his arm back up and get himself back in the correct arm slot.

"I did some work this offseason with the analytics side," Hand said. "I'm not a big analytical guy, but I'm starting to learn a little more about it, what the numbers mean and how it can help me, stuff like that. Everything I was doing this winter and these first few bullpens were back to normal."

Since the start of 2016, Hand's 283 appearances only trail Bryan Shaw's 285. And while Hand noted that he takes pride in taking the ball as often as he does, he also said that it could be part of the reason why his left arm couldn't hold up through the end of the 2019 season.

"I mean I've always been pretty healthy, for the most part," Hand said. "Obviously I've thrown a lot over the last four years or whatever it is. It could be all just catching up on me from when you just pointed out to the beginning of last year. It could just be the past four years, I've pitched a lot. And with getting older and stuff, you got to learn how your body reacts and changes, and stuff like that. Just trying to hopefully stay healthy."

J-Ram OK after taking ball off foot

José Ramírez was facing right-hander Cam Hill in batting practice on Thursday afternoon when he swung through a slider that hit off his back foot. Ramírez dropped to the ground and hobbled off the field, but said he was OK when he made it back to the clubhouse. Francona wasn't concerned that it would be something that would cause problems for the third baseman in the future.

Utility race

Francona said the Indians will look at Christian Arroyo, Mike Freeman and Yu Chang this spring as contenders to fill the utility role. The skipper said to expect Arroyo to play second and third, with a little time at shortstop mixed in. Chang will play second, third and short, while Freeman will play all four infield positions and will eventually see time in the outfield.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.