The last thing Marlins fans envisioned in April was Brad Hand making starts for them in August.
Miami’s pitching staff was supposed to be so stacked following the return of Jose Fernandez there probably wouldn’t even be room for Hand on the 25-man roster.
Not only did Hand start Tuesday night, the 25-year-old left-hander with a 6-20 career record provided what little was good for the Marlins in another demoralizing loss to the surging New York Mets — this one a 5-1 decision.
Although it took him 84 pitches, Hand tossed four scoreless innings and left with a 1-0 lead before the Mets (57-50) tied the score in the sixth against Adam Conley and added four runs with two outs in the eighth off Mike Dunn to take the lead.
New York, once expected to fight with the Marlins for a wild-card spot in the National League, remains a game in front of the Nationals for first place in the East. The Marlins (43-64) are 5-13 since the All-Star Break and only a game in front of the Phillies (42-65), who own the worst record in baseball.
“This team right now [the Mets] they’re on a playoff run,” manager Dan Jennings said. “They have a lot of momentum going their way. But when you stay right there cheek-to-cheek with them and let it get away it’s definitely frustrating.”
A night after the Marlins were pummeled 12-1 in their worst loss of the season, Hand at least kept Miami in it.
He got out of bases-loaded jam in a 31-pitch first inning and then battled through the next three innings, giving up five hits and one walk. He struck out three.
“It took me a while to get comfortable again,” said Hand, who made his fourth start of the season and first since he gave up six runs in an 11-3 loss June 8 at Toronto. “I knew I threw a lot of pitches to the first four batters I got out. I threw like 41 pitches through the first four outs. That’s never good when you have a short pitch count. I was able to battle and get through four.”
Mets starter Jonathan Niese held the Marlins to four hits over seven innings and struck out six. He gave up his only run when Adeiny Hechavarria drew a leadoff walk in the third, advanced to second on a Hand sacrifice bunt and scored on Dee Gordon’s single to right.
Niese then danced out of trouble later in the inning with runners on the corners when he induced Christian Yelich into an inning-ending double play.
With former starters Dan Haren (Cubs) and Mat Latos (Dodgers) gone after being dealt at the trade deadline, Hand could get an extended look the rest of the season. But Jennings was non-committal when asked if Hand would stay in the rotation beyond Tuesday’s start.
“Being able to piggy-back him with Adam [Conley] was great,” Jennings said. “They got some tremendous defensive help. [Yelich] had two tremendous plays. [Martin] Prado with two tremendous plays at third base. Those are the games we’re going to be involved in and have to win. Unfortunately, we let one inning get away from us and that was the difference.”