SAN DIEGO -- Brad Hand was left in limbo when the 2016 season began. Out of options, the southpaw didn't make the Marlins' Opening Day roster and was placed on waivers. The Padres scooped him up almost immediately.A year and a half later, Hand is a bona fide All-Star candidate
SAN DIEGO -- Brad Hand was left in limbo when the 2016 season began. Out of options, the southpaw didn't make the Marlins' Opening Day roster and was placed on waivers. The Padres scooped him up almost immediately.
A year and a half later, Hand is a bona fide All-Star candidate and one of the most sought-after relief arms on the trade market.
What changed? In Hand's eyes, almost nothing.
Sure, he's honed his slider, one of the filthiest in the game. And yes, he's cut his walk rate. But more than anything else, Hand was simply given an opportunity.
"He's got all the ingredients inside himself," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He needed the opportunity. Are there people like that? Yeah. That's what you hope your scouts find."
Hand owns a 2.59 ERA this season and is whiffing 11 hitters per nine. Since he joined the Padres, only Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have more relief strikeouts.
In the meantime, Hand has developed a reputation for his durability. Over the last two seasons, nobody has thrown more relief innings than Hand's 131, and nobody has appeared in more games than his 119.
"In high school, I don't really remember how often I pitched, but if I pitched early in the week, maybe I'd come in and close the game later in the week," he said. "I just try to work hard, keep the body in shape, keep the arm in shape. As long as everything is healthy, I don't see why I can't take the ball every day."
In short, Hand loves to pitch, and he felt as though he wasn't doing enough of it in Miami. With chances few and far between, Hand posted a 4.71 ERA over parts of five seasons.
"Opportunity is a prerequisite to being great," Green said. "You've got to have a chance to pitch. I don't know that everybody would run with it the way he has though. He has real stuff."
Opponents are hitting just .120 (9-for-75) against Hand's slider this season. Among pitchers with at least 50 results against the pitch this year, only Miller, Max Scherzer and Dustin McGowan are better.
The thing is, Hand's slider is still a relatively new pitch. He threw it for the first time in a game in August 2015 against the Padres. He blew it by Alexi Amarista for strike three, and the weapon was born.
It's become the perfect complement to his loopier curveball, which doesn't find the zone as often, but gets plenty of chases.
Hand's stuff is legitimate, few people doubt that. But his easy-going demeanor makes him a perfect candidate to pitch in high-leverage relief situations.
"He's wired right to be successful in this game for a long time," Green said.
The best example came against the Mets last month, when Hand opened the ninth by loading the bases in a one-run game. He coolly struck out a pair before inducing a game-ending popup. Through it all, his even-keel presence never wavered.
It's the same mindset that allows Hand to brush aside the constant trade chatter so easily.
"I hear about it, but there's nothing I can do about it," Hand said. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm happy here in San Diego. If that happens, it's out of my control. I just worry about the game that's here today and can't be looking into the future."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.