Hand falters late again, vows to 'get it right'

May 9th, 2021

When blew the save in the Nationals’ 11th-inning loss to the Yankees on Saturday, his first inclination was to get right back on the mound. He has been closing games for 11 seasons, long enough to know it is important to put tough outings behind him quickly.

“I want in there every day,” Hand said after the Nats’ 3-2 loss on Sunday afternoon in New York. “That’s why being a reliever’s awesome. Once you have a bad one, you’re back in there the next day to kind of right the ship.”

Manager Dave Martinez agreed with that approach, and he called on the lefty to warm up while locked up at 2 apiece late in Sunday’s series finale. Kyle Schwarber tied things up in the seventh with a monster two-run homer.

The original plan was for Hand to pitch if the Nats took the lead, but he had thrown so many pitches in the bullpen that he would not have been available to warm up again, and he had to enter the game for the bottom of the ninth.

Hand opened the inning by issuing back-to-back walks to Tyler Wade and Aaron Judge. He got DJ LeMahieu to ground out, but that wasn’t enough to stop Giancarlo Stanton from sending a 79.8 mph slider into left field to drive in Wade for the walk-off single.

Of Hand’s 17 pitches, only seven were for strikes.

“It’s tough,” Martinez said. “He’s not throwing strikes. I considered walking Stanton, but you can’t walk the bases loaded if you’re not throwing strikes.”

Hand entered the series at Yankee Stadium with a league-leading 24 consecutive saves in opportunities, dating back to Aug. 23, 2019. He left with a blown save and his first loss of the season, summing up the weekend as “not very productive.”

“The two walks again, I feel like these past two days I’ve really kind of beat myself giving up the free baserunners there to begin the inning,” Hand said. “It’s a tough one, the way the team fought back late in the game, but [I] just can’t keep falling behind hitters like that.”

Hand and the Nats plan to study film before their next game on Tuesday against the Phillies at Nationals Park.

“Usually when I’m missing, I’m missing arm-side high, which necessarily isn’t 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. … We’ll figure it out and get it right.”

The Nationals signed Hand this offseason to anchor their bullpen as the closer. Last year, he led all of baseball with 16 saves as a member of the Indians. Hand is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA on the season with Washington.

“He’s been doing really, really well for us,” Martinez said. “So we’ve got to get him out there, and we’ve got to get him the ball.”