Hand fortifying Rox's 'pen with new cutter, veteran presence

March 9th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- committed almost exclusively to a fastball/slider mix in 2017, and five consecutive 15-save seasons and $30.25 million in salary ensued.

Now with a new team, Hand is looking to add a new weapon.

The left-hander worked on a cut fastball in bullpen sessions while helping Philadelphia to the World Series in 2022, and he threw a few in his first live batting practice session with Colorado on Wednesday. Among the hitters he faced was fellow newbie Mike Moustakas.

“It feels good. I like where it’s at,” Hand said. “Threw some good ones. Threw some bad ones. Obviously it being a new pitch, [it helps] seeing a hitter in there. The next step is to bring it into games.”

Hand joined the Rockies on Saturday on a one-year, $2 million deal with a club option for 2024, adding depth to a bullpen that will be without left-hander Lucas Gilbreath after a season-ending left elbow injury.

“Just never felt good enough with [the cutter] to bring it into a game last year,” Hand said. “I really dove into it this offseason to try to get comfortable with it.”

Hand has mixed his 93 mph fastball and 81 mph slider in almost equal proportion since ditching the curveball in 2017, a year after he made the transition to full-time reliever after starting for Miami early in his career. He called the slider his “bread and butter” pitch.

A cut fastball traditionally moves like a slider but has a tighter, later break as it nears the plate, enabling it to stay in the strike zone longer.

“Today I threw a few that were a little slider-ish, but they’re just a little harder and tighter,” Hand said. “We’ll see how it plays when we get into games. I can’t throw a number on how many times I will use it. The hitters will let me know how to use it and when to use it.

“Just another thing to have the hitters thinking about.”

Hand went 3-2 with a 2.80 ERA and five saves for Philadelphia a year ago, his first season there after logging 125 saves as the closer for San Diego, Cleveland and Washington. He led the Majors with 16 saves in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, his final one with Cleveland.

Rockies manager Bud Black seemed pleased with Hand’s first session.

“The ball came out good,” Black said. “Good fastball velocity. The cutter looked fine. Overall, it was what we needed to see. [The cutter] will enable him to have another weapon to face hitters. They know he has the good fastball and the good breaking ball. Now you add this cutter. It’s becoming a part of his arsenal.”

Hand, who will turn 33 on March 20, fortifies a Colorado bullpen that includes closer Daniel Bard and newcomers Pierce Johnson and Brent Suter. Tyler Kinley, recovering from right flexor tendon surgery last July, could return by midseason.

Bard is pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and Justin Lawrence threw 10 pitches (eight strikes) in a 1-2-3 ninth inning in Panama’s 12-5 victory over Chinese Taipei in the WBC on Wednesday. Lawrence is projected to have a larger role in the Rockies' bullpen this season.

“The names have changed,” Black said. “We feel good about the potential performance based on stuff, based on track record and based the character of the guys.”

Hand has had success at Coors Field, having given up one run and three hits with 10 strikeouts in nine relief appearances there since 2016. At the same time, he understands the challenge that altitude presents.

“As a visitor, you come in there for three days and by the third day, you're just getting used to it, and then you leave,” Hand said. “You just have to realize that maybe your stuff is not going to move as much, but you still have to pitch the same way.

“You can't go out there with a bad mentality. You just have to stay aggressive and attack the hitters. It's going to be an adjustment, but I'm looking forward to it.”

Worth noting
• Left fielder suffered a left biceps injury on a swinging strike three to end the first inning of the Rockies’ 4-3 loss to the Angels on Wednesday. “We don’t know the extent of it,” Black said. After taking his defensive position, Bouchard was replaced by Cole Tucker.

hit his second homer of the spring in the first inning and hit his first in the seventh. Montero’s homer landed in a stand of trees far beyond the left-field fence.