He jetted back to Cleveland on a red-eye flight to have his tired left arm examined.
As Hand knows there are no shadows to hide in on the mound in the ninth inning with a one-run lead. So who is going to close for the Tribe’s last 15 games of the season? More importantly who is going to close this weekend against the first-place Twins in the biggest series of the season at Progressive Field?
Manager Terry Francona said the MRI on Hand’s arm was clean. He didn’t think he’d have to try and reach the postseason by using a closer by committee.
But he did say Hand still has to “build back up.” He said his a his tired left arm has caused his arm slot to get lower and lower. That sounds like spring-training talk to me. You don’t build back up with 15 must-win games to go. You jump in with both feet and a Bowie knife between your teeth.
Besides, Hand has been in a tailspin since the All-Star break. To think a couple of days off is going to snap him out of it is overly optimistic. So who is really going to close for the Tribe?
Francona showed his Brad Handless hand in the ninth inning against the Angels. Right-hander Nick Wittgren opened by getting lefty Brian Goodwin out. Lefties are hitting .227 (17-for-75) against Wittgren. He also has 83 saves in the minors.
When Wittgren walked right-hander Scott Fletcher, lefty Oliver Perez relieved to face lefty Shohei Ohtani with the Tribe clinging to a 4-3 lead. Ohtani, who homered in the fifth, bounced into a force play at first. Lefties are hitting .210 (17-for-81) against Perez.
Next up was future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, a right-handed hitter who is still dangerous. The 655 homers on his baseball card say so.
Francona’s counter measure was submarining right-hander Adam Cimber. Pujols went down on three straight pitches, the last one a 77 mph slider. Cimber has had his moments this year, good and bad, but right-handers are hitting just .236 against him.
That was just the ninth inning.
Tyler Clippard retired the Angels in order in the seventh, but gave up a leadoff homer in the eight. Nick Goody relieved and struck out three of the next four batters to end the inning.
That doesn’t count Dan Otero, James Hoyt, Phil Maton, Jefry Rodriguez and Hunter Wood. The Indians have relievers all over the place, but do they have enough of the right ones if Hand spends the next two months “building back up?”
“There’s a little bit more uncertainty at the end of the game,” Clippard said, when asked how the pen would change without Hand. "That’s pretty much it.
“We’re ready. The nice thing is what we’ve done all year — nobody has really had set roles, except for Brad. We’re ready for everything down there. That’s the way it’s been all year. Nothing is going to really throw us off. We’re ready to go when Tito wants us to go.”
Clippard, 34, saved seven games for the Blue Jays last year. He saved 32 for the Nationals in 2012.
“We’ve been fighting all year,” said Perez, 38. "Look at our three young starters — Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko. They all started the season in the minor leagues.
“So this might be a good opportunity to step up and and do something you’ve never done before.”
Could that youngster be James Karinchak, the hard-throwing right-hander who is currently helping Class AAA Columbus in the International League championship series? There was a chance the Indians were going to promote him after the Clippers’ playoff run, but Hand’s situation may accelerate his arrival.
Rarely does a team go through 162 games without problems. The Indians have had more than their share. They lost two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to a line drive on May 1. Then they lost him again on Aug. 18 during a rehab start to a strained oblique. All-Star third baseman Ramirez broke has right hamate bone at the end of August. Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia. Mike Clevinger strained a muscle in back of his right shoulder and All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor missed the first 20 games of the season with ankle and calf injuries.
Now Hand is uncertain for the remainder of the season and postseason.
When asked what course of action he’d take if Hand can’t come back, Francona said, “Easy, he’s not dead. He’s going to be OK.”
Yeah, but there are only 15 games left in the season.
“Yes, I’m aware of that and we’ve won the last three without him," Francona said. “We’ll figure it out. That’s how we always think. We’ll figure it out.”