Once inside the clubhouse, however, the Cleveland reliever entered a trouble-free zone because he found out he’d officially made his third straight All-Star team.
Hand represented the San Diego Padres on the NL All-Star team in 2017 and 2018. He switched teams and leagues last year. This time around, he’ll be representing the Indians and the AL on July 9 at Progressive Field.
It has been a dominating first half for Hand, a lefty who depends on a Frisbee-like slider and a fastball. The slider is his best pitch. He threw 17 of them in the Tribe’s 2-0 win over the Orioles on Sunday to earn his 23rd save in 24 chances. Along with the slider, he threw 11 fastballs.
The slider’s average mph was 82.3, while the fastball averaged 94 mph.
Hand found trouble and redemption with both pitches on Sunday. He relieved Shane Bieber, who struck out 11 over eight scoreless innings. Hand inherited a 2-0 lead, but it was a bumpy ride to victory.
He had two out, but loaded the bases on a single by Trey Mancini and a walk to Chance Sisco. In his last appearance, Hand allowed five runs on five hits without recording an out to end his streak of 22 consecutive saves. But Hand struck out Anthony Santander on a slider in the dirt to end Sunday’s game.
Hand will be joined by teammates Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor at the All-Star Game. Manager Terry Francona will be there as well as a honorary member of Boston manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff. Santana will start at first base, while Lindor will be a reserve.
“It’s going to be nice to know some other people there,” Hand said. “Last year when I went I was the only Padre. So it kind of felt I was on the outside.”
It was at last year’s All-Star Game that the rumors were swirling about Hand possibly being traded. On July 18, the day after the All-Star Game, Hand and Adam Cimber were traded to the Indians for catcher Francisco Mejia.
The same rumors are circulating about Hand this season because the Indians are no longer the top team in the AL Central. The Twins went into Sunday’s action with a nine-game lead over the Indians in the division.
Hand certainly has had the kind of first half that would attract attention.
“If he isn’t an All-Star nobody is,” Francona said, well before the final votes were counted.
Hand is 4-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 37 games. He’s struck out 53, walked nine and allowed 26 hits in 35 1/3 innings. He’s tied with New York’s Aroldis Chapman for first place in the AL with 23 saves. He leads all AL closers with 17 or more saves with 53 strikeouts and 37 appearances.
Making his third straight trip to the All-Star Game meant a lot of Hand.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work,” he said. “You know, I got designated for assignment by Miami (2016). I kind of found a role in the bullpen (with San Diego) and tried to work hard to get this opportunity. It’s everyone’s dream to go to an All-Star Game and win a World Series. It should be fun.”
Other AL relievers who made the All-Star team include Chapman, Detroit’s Shane Greene, Toronto’s Ken Giles and Houston’s Ryan Pressly.