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Hand prepared for unconventional closer role

Padres not expecting to always save lefty for ninth inning
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brad Hand is going to be the Padres' closer this season -- except when he isn't.

The All-Star lefty signed a three-year contract extension during the offseason, and, on most nights, it's safe to expect he'll be saved for the ninth inning. But that's not a hard-and-fast rule, in the eyes of manager Andy Green.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brad Hand is going to be the Padres' closer this season -- except when he isn't.

The All-Star lefty signed a three-year contract extension during the offseason, and, on most nights, it's safe to expect he'll be saved for the ninth inning. But that's not a hard-and-fast rule, in the eyes of manager Andy Green.

"We'll find interesting ways to utilize him that maximize our abilities to win games," Green said. "He'll close some games, for sure. But how that all plays out, I don't have that mapped out right now."

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That's just fine with Hand, who was used mostly in a setup capacity last year until the Padres sent Brandon Maurer to Kansas City at the Trade Deadline.

"Sometimes the ninth inning is talked about just because it ends the game," Hand said. "But there might be other situations -- and I think you're starting to see it more in baseball -- where the closer role is interchangeable. Other guys can come in and do the job, if you have to use [the closer] in an earlier situation."

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Green hypothesized one of those situations arising in a game against the Dodgers.

"I'd hate to be staring down [left-handed hitters] Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager in the eighth inning and say, 'I'm going to hold onto Brad until the ninth,'" Green said. "It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We'll move him around as best fits us, and he doesn't care. He's good with anything."

Over the past two seasons, Hand has cemented himself as one of the game's top relievers. He's posted a 2.56 ERA since joining the Padres in April 2016. During that time, he's posted consecutive 100-strikeout seasons, and he's appeared in more games than anyone, minus Addison Reed.

Video: Brad Hand is the No. 9 relief pitcher right now

During the offseason, Hand re-upped with the Padres through 2020 for $19.75 million, with a team option for '21. He enters this season secure financially and secure in his place in the Padres' bullpen -- even if his job as closer isn't entirely traditional.

"It's the same as every year," Hand said. "You get ready for the season, no matter what your role is. You've got to be ready to compete, ready to win ballgames, whether you're pitching the fifth inning or the ninth inning."

Padres finalizing pitching plans for opener
Kyle Lloyd, Brett Kennedy and Miguel Diaz will all pitch in Friday's Cactus League opener against the Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex, though Green did not confirm a starter.

All three are expected to begin the year in the Minors. Diaz spent last season in the Major League bullpen as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but he'll be a starting pitcher to open this season. In that sense, the club feels he could use some experience in the Minors, and he likely won't be a part of an already-crowded rotation battle.

Quotable
Green had high praise for Tyson Ross and Chris Young, noting the impact the veteran right-handers can make on a young group of pitchers this spring:

"Both of them are the type of pitchers that we'd love to build in our farm system with the way they're wired, the way they compete," Green said. "They're great examples for our guys. Their workouts are religious to them. They don't miss anything, they take care of their bodies.

"That's how you pitch deep into your 30s. If you don't do those things, your career usually ends around 30 years old. Those guys are great examples to the young guys in camp, and those two guys have legitimate opportunities to be in our rotation. We'll watch that play out."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

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