He walked the first two batters of the ninth, got a force out at second, then served a slider to Stanton for the game-ending hit. Manager Dave Martinez was wary of intentionally walking Stanton because of Hand’s lack of control. How Hand arrived in that spot, fresh off throwing 29 pitches and blowing two leads Saturday, was a question for Martinez.
“The big decision — I know it was a tie game — is that he threw a lot of pitches [Saturday], he warmed up, he was going to come in if we took the lead, but we couldn’t sit him down once he warmed up,” Martinez explained. “So he was coming in the game tied or ahead. He threw a lot of pitches [Saturday]. We had one shot at this, to get him in there, so we got him in. It’s tough. He’s not throwing strikes.”
Few losses can be hung on one player. This wasn’t an exception. The Nationals issued 10 walks, helping the Yankees plate three runs with just five hits. Starter Joe Ross issued five of those and was at 90 pitches — one fewer than his season high — when Martinez sent him back out for the sixth. Gleyber Torres started the inning with a homer to make it 2-0 New York. Ross walked the next batter, Gary Sánchez, on four pitches and then was hooked. And the offense did nothing outside the seventh, when Josh Bell doubled and Kyle Schwarber homered him in to tie the score.
Hand was not alone in the series finale. But back-to-back lapses are concerning.
“I felt pretty good warming up in the bullpen; everything was sharp,” said Hand, a 31-year-old left-hander. “Just the two walks, again, I feel like these past two days I’ve really just kind of beaten myself, giving up the free base runners there to begin the innings. It’s a tough one the way the team fought back late in the game. Can’t keep falling behind hitters like that.”
In the eighth, as Austin Voth navigated his second scoreless inning, Daniel Hudson warmed in the bullpen. Hudson, typically Martinez’s setup man, logged two outs on seven pitches Saturday. Unlike Hand, he was fresh. Then there was Will Harris, another high-leverage option, who is still easing in after missing a month with right hand inflammation. He threw 17 pitches Friday and has not appeared since. Yet Martinez had even promised that, if given a chance to go right back to Hand, he would. That’s his managerial style. It’s built on trust that is hard to bend.
Saturday, though, was ugly enough (and odd enough) to consider a one-day break from Hand. He entered with a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings this season, plus 24 consecutive converted saves. He exited after walking the leadoff batter in the ninth, yielding two bloop singles that knotted the score and another run-scoring single in the 10th — that one to left-handed hitter Mike Ford — that also tied it up. He threw 16 of his 29 pitches for strikes.
On Saturday, he had next to no feel for his sinker. On Sunday, it was his four-seam fastball that sprayed around the zone. He uses the two fastballs to complement a heralded slider. It was the slider that juiced a one-year, $10.5 million deal in January, especially because Hand has notably lost some velocity in recent seasons. But he threw nine sliders in the ninth and got just two strikes (one swinging, one called). That was another mark against his overall command.
“Usually, when I’m missing, I’m missing arm-side high, which isn’t necessarily the case right now,” Hand said. “I’ve been missing kind of more down in the zone, which is weirder for me. I’ll just have to look at the video, see what’s going on. Haven’t had a chance to do that yet today.”
Two of his misses were arm-side high, a pair of sliders that got away from him. Most of the others, as Hand noted, were below the zone. The inning began with a favorable lefty-lefty matchup with Tyler Wade. After him, the Yankees had pinch hitter Aaron Judge waiting in the on-deck circle, then DJ LeMahieu and Stanton at the top of their order. Those last three batters are a gantlet for any pitcher. That made it extra important to attack Wade and keep the bases clear.
That Hand couldn’t, throwing four balls in a row, was a screaming sign that he was off again. No one rushed to the bullpen mound. The inning was Hand’s to either finish or finish a loss in. Stanton’s 112.6-mph single came on his 17th pitch, totaling 46 total in 24 hours. Wade, on third after LeMahieu grounded into a fielder’s choice — and after third baseman Starlin Castro attempted to start a double play instead of stepping on the bag — made the stressless trot home. A light rain fell on the Yankees’ celebration.
Martinez was set on giving Hand a shot to clean his palate, and it’s likely he will give Hand the next save opportunity. He has named Hand his closer and is not one to deviate. That could either backfire or get the lefty on track.
“I want in there every day. That’s why being a reliever is awesome,” he said. “Once you have a bad one, you’re right back in there to right the ship. Obviously today didn’t go as planned. But the next game, we’ll get it right.”
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