WASHINGTON – Brad Hand knows his fastball's speed declined more than 2 mph over the past two seasons. So the Washington Nationals' new reliever is trying to reverse that trend.
“It helped me out a lot just being able to know I can pitch at that range,” said Hand, whose fastball averaged 91.4 mph last year. "Obviously, I don’t want to pitch at that range — I’m trying to get that back up — but I just had to learn how to pitch more, you know what I mean?
The lefty finalized a $10.5 million, one-year contract with the Nationals on Tuesday, giving the team more strength and flexibility in the back end of its bullpen.
The deal includes $6.5 million in salary that will be deferred without interest. The deferred money will come in payments of $1.5 million due next Jan. 15, $3.5 million due Jan. 15, 2023, and $1.5 million due Jan. 15, 2024.
Even with his fastball velocity down during the pandemic-truncated 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians, the 30-year-old Hand led the majors with 16 saves and compiled a 2.05 ERA, .169 opponents' batting average, 29 strikeouts and four walks in 22 innings over 23 appearances. He didn't allow a homer.
“I just had to be more fine. Like, I wasn’t getting away with stuff (over the) middle of the plate. I had to really focus on the location and make sure I got up to the spot that I wanted to,” said Hand, who explained that about 80% of his pitches are four-seam fastballs and that he relies a lot on a slider he developed late in 2015. “Obviously, when you’ve got the velocity, you can get away with a little bit more of the plate and stuff like that. ... I was just dealing with what I had and grinding through it.”
Cleveland declined Hand’s $10 million option after last season, triggering a $1 million buyout and making him a free agent eligible to sign with any major league club.
He is a three-time All-Star, earning that honor in 2017, 2018 and 2019 after becoming a full-time reliever. He is 26-43 with 105 saves and a 3.65 ERA in 396 career games across 10 seasons in the big leagues, including 43 starts, for Cleveland, San Diego and Miami.
He joins a deep bullpen in Washington that already included Daniel Hudson, Will Harris and Tanner Rainey.
“I’m always open to pitching, whatever inning it may be. But these past two years I’ve been closing, and I’m comfortable in that role,” Hand said on a video conference with reporters. “I’ve always approached them the same, whether it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth. That’s crunch time, when the starters are out of the game. They’re handing it over to us to finish it off.”
Since tying for last in the NL East in 2020, Washington set out to address several glaring needs, adding Hand, lefty starter Jon Lester (pending a physical), slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Josh Bell.
The Nationals also brought back their longest tenured player, Ryan Zimmerman, after he sat out 2020 because of concerns about the coronavirus' effect on his family's health.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports