Brad Hand knows the deal.
After all, he went through it last year.
The Marlins can’t send him back down to the minors and on paper they don’t have room for him in the rotation. So, it’s either make the team because a spot opens up again in the bullpen (it did in 2014), a starter or two in the rotation gets injured, or pack your bags and expect to be traded.
It’s a discussion the Marlins’ 2008 second-round pick and 24-year-old left-hander has already had with his new bride Morgan. The Hands, married this past Saturday in a private ceremony at a West Palm Beach restaurant, know they might not be calling Jupiter their home for long.
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“I’ve been with the Marlins ever since [I got drafted], but I know I’m not going to spend my whole career here,” said Hand, who tossed a scoreless first inning in Monday’s spring-opening 7-2 win over Florida International University at Roger Dean Stadium.
“It’s part of baseball.”
Hand might benefit from a change of scenery anyway. His career numbers as a Marlin are nothing stellar: 5-18 record, 4.42 ERA and a 1.392 WHIP. Last year, he earned an Opening Day spot with the Marlins as the club’s long reliever after going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in six spring appearances, including six no-hit innings against the Yankees.
The 6-3, 220-pound Minnesota native then bombed in his new bullpen role, going 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA in his first 16 appearances of the season before being sent to the disabled list with a right ankle sprain at the end of May. He spent a month stashed away in the minors, rehabbing where he went 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in six starts.
When he resurfaced with the Marlins in July, it was because the club already had gone through a few other arms, including veteran Randy Wolf, in an attempt to replace injured ace Jose Fernandez.
Hand went 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in six starts in July, and it looked like he might be on the verge of turning the corner. But then he regressed and lost his spot in the rotation when he went 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA the following month. Hand picked it up again, though, in September, finishing the year 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA over his final four starts, giving the Marlins hope and a reason to give him another look this spring.
“I’m excited to see how he goes and competes,” Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill said before Monday’s game. “I don’t think any of us are too eager to trade away starting-pitching innings. We’ll see how this spring training unfolds, but he’s being stretched out and prepared as a starter. We’ll see what we look like at the end of spring, see where he fits as one of 12 [pitchers who make the team].”
As it stands, the Marlins may only end up taking one left-hander with them in the bullpen: veteran Mike Dunn. Right-hander David Phelps, acquired from the Yankees in the Nathan Eovaldi trade, is the favorite to be the Marlins’ long reliever. Hill said Monday he simply wants the 12 best arms on the team on the Opening Day roster.
“I’ve just got to got to go out there and pitch well and let everything take care of itself and have them make a tough decision,” Hand said. “Obviously I was going back and forth from the bullpen and starting [last year] and I’m more comfortable starting. But I did whatever they needed. I felt like I made a lot of good strides moving into this year.”
▪ FIU cleanup hitter Josh Anderson plated both of his team’s runs Monday with one swing of the bat. He crushed a two-run home run off left-hander Justin Nicolino in the fourth inning. Last year, FIU tagged Nicolino for five runs in their exhibition showdown with the Marlins.
“He’s a great pitcher and I remember he has a nasty changeup, so I was just looking fastball and I got it,” Anderson said.
▪ Monday’s game was the first played this spring with baseball’s new between-innings timer. In an attempt to speed up the game, teams now have just 2 minutes 25 seconds between innings to get lined up so action picks up as soon as TV cameras come back from commercial breaks.
“I thought all our guys were in their [spots] with 30, 40 seconds left,” manager Mike Redmond said. “If it was during the season, we would have been waiting to start that inning. The biggest adjustment for hitters is going to be staying in the box when you take a pitch. I don’t think we have any guy on our team that really gets way out of the box and walks around.”