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Slide of Hand: SD reliever could be in demand

Lefty's powerful pitch, versatility may prove valuable to contenders
July 27, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres don't appear ready to back down from their lofty price tag on lefty reliever Brad Hand."We have a pitcher we value a ton," one member of the team's front office said over the weekend. "... Of course we're going to ask for what we think

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres don't appear ready to back down from their lofty price tag on lefty reliever Brad Hand.
"We have a pitcher we value a ton," one member of the team's front office said over the weekend. "... Of course we're going to ask for what we think is a fair return."
Hand's numbers are undoubtedly impressive. He's posted a 2.08 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 52 innings, and he's under team control through 2019. Hand has gone 17 straight appearances without allowing a run.
Hand -- a castoff in Miami last April -- has turned into one of the most sought-after relievers on the market, ahead of Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. And there are plenty of reasons to believe his recent success could translate to October for a contending club.
Sure, it's probably advisable to send a right-hander to the plate against Hand -- if you have the choice. But his success certainly isn't limited to left-on-left matchups.
Against righties: .209/.259/.287, 33% K rate, .243 xWOBA
Against lefties: .175/.288/.333, 32% K rate, .257 xWOBA
Given those splits, Hand is valuable in just about any situation. That includes those calling for multiple innings. He's tied for eighth in the Majors with 33 relief appearances of more than one inning since the start of last season.
And no matter how Hand is used, his numbers don't fluctuate much. In those multi-inning appearances, the former starter owns a 2.47 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. In save situations, he's got a 2.45 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 25 innings. Hand has been most effective in the eighth, where he owns a 1.57 mark.

It's not enough that Hand has made more appearances (129) than any other reliever since he joined the Padres last April. He makes it known that he wants to pitch even more.
In April, Padres manager Andy Green approached Hand in the outfield at AT&T Park and told him he wouldn't be pitching that day. Hand turned to the left-field wall and launched his baseball beyond the bleachers. It struck the middle of the giant glove that towers over the stands.
"I'm fine," Hand said, his point proven -- though he wouldn't pitch that day.
At this point, there's little doubt that Hand could sustain the grind of pitching through October. It's easy to see him filling the role Andrew Miller took with Cleveland last postseason: A reliever available in any game for any length of time against any combination of hitters.

His slider
"It doesn't even make sense," Ryan Buchter said of Hand's slider earlier this month. Buchter, who was dealt to Kansas City on Monday, was Hand's partner for catch during pregame warmups. He insisted he had never seen a baseball move quite like it.
Catcher Austin Hedges noticed the same thing.
"Last year, right when I got called up in September, I caught him a couple times, and I realized right away, 'This guy's got [a] really special [slider],'" Hedges said.
In no uncertain terms, Hand began his career turnaround by developing a slider. He first threw the pitch at Petco Park in August 2015 as a member of the Marlins. Hand struck out Alexi Amarista, and he's done an awful lot of the same since.
Opponents are slugging just .171 against Hand's slider this season. He has increased his usage of the pitch in every month so far this season (now up to about 46 percent). So it's no coincidence that Hand's strikeout rate has risen as well.

Composure in big moments
This one's admittedly subjective. Hand has never been part of a pennant race, and there's no hard evidence that he'd rise to the occasion in a short playoff series. But he's certainly showcased an ability to handle tricky situations.
Perhaps the best example came in May, when the Mets nickeled and dimed their way into a bases-loaded, no-outs situation against Hand in the ninth. The next at-bat, he sprinted about 50 yards into foul territory on a failed attempt at a popup.
No matter. Hand composed himself amidst a boisterous Citi Field, then struck out a pair before inducing a flyout to end the game.
"I've never seen him fazed by anything," Green said. "There are very few people I can honestly make that statement about. I would expect him to thrive under any circumstance. That's just the kind of person he is."

Hand certainly handled the bright lights of the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, retiring the side in order in the seventh, including a strikeout of Robinson Cano, the game's eventual MVP.
How would Hand fare in the heart of a pennant race? Stay tuned. If the Padres can find a trade partner willing to meet their asking price, we'll likely find out soon.

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