It took three long years for Brad Hand to go from his first major-league win as a starting pitcher to his second. It took him only five days to chalk up his third.
After years of toiling, unable to gain a foothold in the majors, Hand is suddenly making believers out of the Marlins, who have stood by the pitcher even when the results haven’t been there.
They’re there now.
Hand delivered a gem on Friday night, blanking the Astros on three hits over 7 1/3 innings as the Marlins pulled out a 2-0 victory. The Marlins have now won five of their past six games, creating intrigue as the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline nears.
Though they’re still eight games out of first and four games below .500, they’re starting to play better, which could encourage management to upgrade the roster at the deadline rather than trade away pieces.
But that decision is for another day.
On Friday, Hand was too much for Houston to handle. The left-hander didn’t allow his first hit until Gregorio Petit’s one-out single in the third, and gave up only two more hits after that, a sixth-inning single by Jose Altuve and a one-out double in the eighth to Jason Castro that brought about his exit.
Otherwise, he was close to impeccable.
“He looks like a guy who is on a mission,” manager Mike Redmond said. “He is in the flow and in the rhythm right now. The thing about young pitchers is you never know at what point the light goes on.”
In his win over the Giants on Sunday — his first big-league victory as a starting pitcher since July 2011 — Hand held San Francisco to a pair of runs over seven innings.
The Astros couldn’t muster so much as one against him Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“Throwing strikes,’’ Hand said in explaining his sudden change in fortune. “Anytime I get in trouble I’m falling behind in the count, walking guys. When I walk guys, that’s when I get myself in trouble. So the biggest thing for me is pounding the strike zone, make them put the ball in play.’’
Asked how satisfied he is with the results, Hand said: “Nothing’s done yet. I’m still trying to go out every fifth day and solidify myself in this rotation. Nothing’s going to be given to me.”
But the win didn’t come easily. Houston starter Dallas Keuchel was every bit as stubborn as Hand, holding the Marlins scoreless until the seventh when Miami finally broke through on Jeff Mathis’ two-run double.
To that point, it had been a night of frustration for the Marlins at the plate. Double plays wiped out scoring chances in the fifth and sixth innings, Donovan Solano inexplicably — and unsuccessfully — attempted to steal third base with one out in the fourth and Casey McGehee at the plate. And Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unable to tag from third in the fifth when Adeiny Hechavarria ripped a liner that was caught in shallow right-center, not deep enough to score the man from third.
Outside of Hand, about the only thing that did go right for the Marlins was another successful replay challenge. After Altuve singled in the sixth, he was ruled safe on a steal of second. But after the Marlins challenged, the call was overturned and the inning was over.
The Marlins have been successful on 16 of their 20 replay challenges, the highest percentage in the majors.
After Hand came out in the eighth, the Marlins turned to their bullpen. Bryan Morris cleaned up in the eighth for Hand, retiring both batters he faced, before Steve Cishek worked the ninth for his 25th save — and fifth in the past six days.