Hand named to NL All-Star squad
SAN DIEGO -- Two springs ago, the Padres took a chance on a struggling left-hander who had recently been designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins. They liked the potential in his breaking ball. They thought he might be a useful bullpen piece, if he could put it all together.
Twenty-seven months later, Brad Hand is a two-time All-Star.
"It's crazy," said Hand, who was named to the National League All-Star team Sunday for the second consecutive season. "Two years ago, I didn't know if I was even going to get a big league job once I got designated. I had no clue if any team was going to pick me up. You've just got to work hard, put your head down, keep moving forward. You never know what's going to happen. I was lucky to find a home here in San Diego."
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Hand is certainly a deserving choice. He owns a 2.91 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 43 1/3 innings. Despite pitching for a last-place club, Hand's 24 saves are second in the National League.
But Hand acknowledged that he was both honored by the selection and disheartened that he won't be joined by right-hander Kirby Yates. The Padres' setup man has posted a 1.57 ERA, albeit in seven fewer innings.
"I'm a little surprised to be honest," Hand said. "Kirby, he had a great first half. ... I definitely think he deserves it. The numbers he's put up this first half are ridiculous."
In reality, it was always going to be difficult for the Padres to send two relievers from the same bullpen. In the five seasons preceding Sunday's announcement, that happened only once in the National League. (Typically, when two relief pitchers are deserving, the closer is the default selection.)
"You're always hoping for a couple of guys on your team to make it," said Padres manager Andy Green. "Selfishly, we felt like Kirby was one of those guys we would've loved to see get his first All-Star nod. But to see Brad get his second, you start talking about guys who made two All-Star teams -- those aren't aberrations. Those are real dudes. He's been that. He's been outstanding for us. He anchors the bullpen."
In January, Hand inked a contract extension that keeps him under team control through 2021. Still, he's already drawing plenty of interest ahead of this month's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Rumors will swirl around him during All-Star festivities in Washington next week.
A year ago, Hand's trip to Marlins Park served as something of a redemption tour. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the NL, striking out Robinson Cano to end it.
Hand was cast aside by Miami in April 2016, and the Padres claimed him during the season's first week. He honed his slider into one of the game's most dominant weapons. Since his arrival, Hand's 276 relief strikeouts rank second in the Majors. His 193 appearances are the third-most. He owns a 2.66 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP.
"There's something in life to being knocked down and having the audacity to get back up and attack," Green said. "When you're a waiver claim, you've been knocked down. When you've been cast aside by another organization, somebody's basically said, 'Hey, I don't believe in you.' You have to carry a belief in yourself to overcome things. That's the greatest thing he could take from that."
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