CLEVELAND, Ohio – Brad Hand wanted to put a zero on the Progressive Field notice board. He put a place four instead.
After eight rounds of excellence from Zach Plesac, this was not what the Indians were looking for from their closest.
Sometimes farmers can lose drip games. It is as if they were paid by the hour. This is not the case for Hand in Wednesday night’s 4-0 loss to the White Sox. He started the ninth scoreless inning and hastily changed that.
Tim Anderson hit a starting brace. Hand walked Yoan Moncada and hit Jose Abreu with a slider in the foot to load the bases. Then Yasmani Grandal and Hand needed a strikeout. Instead, Grandal hit a sacrificed fly to right field for the one run the White Sox would need to save themselves from a three-game Indian sweep.
It was Hand’s third appearance since the season opened on Friday and his second in as many days. He recorded saves in his first two games, but questions remain.
He hasn’t had an easy run, without a doubt, the kind of run that builds confidence not only in Main, but also in his manager after being shut down in September due to a tired left arm.
In Friday’s season opener, Hand started the ninth by hitting Kansas City’s Alex Gordon with the Indians leading 2-0. He struck out the next three hitters for the save.
On Tuesday, Hand entered Game 1 of a double-sided White Sox with a 4-2 lead in the ninth. Anderson, once again, greeted him with a double. He pulled out Moncada and Abreu, but Grandal made a single to make it 4-3. He ended the match by removing Edwin Encarnacion for the save.
Then came the mess of Wednesday night. He followed eight scoreless innings from Plesac in which he struck out a career-high 11 batters.
As Hand said of Plesac, “For Zach to do eight innings in his first outing of the year. This is unheard of. Even if we had started in April, you wouldn’t see many starters in eight innings. It just shows the work he did during the layoff to prepare.
What happened Wednesday night in the ninth round is part of the work that all the farmers live with. When they go wrong, not only do they ruin their night, but also the night of all those teammates who put him in a position to get three strikeouts in the ninth inning to preserve a win or continue the game.
“I was ready to go into summer camp and start the season,” Hand said. “My things are ready. Tonight I only gave up one shot. I put myself in this situation. It’s not like I’ve been hit. Some things have happened. I put myself in my own jam.
After Grandal’s sacrificial volley, Encarnacion made a receiver interference call against Beau Taylor to reload the bases. Adam Cimber relieved, and Eloy Jimenez hit a sacrificed fly and Luis Robert hit a two-run single.
“He comes in, in a draw and things are amplified,” said Indian manager Terry Francona. “Then he gave up a double from the first length. Then he hits Abreu on the foot and there is interference from the receiver. It kind of escalated from there. We couldn’t turn it off.
Hand has saved 44 games for the Indians since acquiring San Diego on July 19, 2018. Last year he set a club record for left-hander saves with 34 out of 39 chances. Although his speed is perhaps being down, he won Francona’s trust.
“On Tuesday he pitched and was 92 mph to 93 mph,” Francona said. “The (radar gun) at Progressive Field is a tick or two slow. This part is coming.
“This (speed) is not the end of everything and being everything. Looking for life, to have swing-and-miss. There is so much confidence in him as a competitor. Sometimes you have to be patient even when it’s not easy.
Hand said it didn’t matter whether he started the ninth after eight scoreless innings by both pitching teams. Without a lead to protect, he said his job description had not changed.
“It’s no different. Every time you go there you try to put a zero, ”Hand said. “No matter what the score of the ball game you throw, you always try to put a zero. I was just trying to keep the score 0-0 and give us a chance to win at the end of the ninth.
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