The Indians needed a win on Friday night, and Brad Hand was doubly in need of a successful save opportunity. Both came to fruition against the Royals.
It probably helps that the Cleveland Indians held a three-run lead against a team with a 45-83 record coming into Friday night’s game. It probably helps that none of the opponent’s top three hitters came to the plate at any point in the ninth inning.
And it’s definitely true that neither of those things matter to Brad Hand, as the Cleveland closer held the Kansas City Royals scoreless en route to his first save in what seems like forever.
The Tribe got just enough offense to earn an early lead against the Royals on Friday night, starting with a two-run single off the bat of Tyler Naquin and ending on a two-run homer from Francisco Lindor.
Four runs is all it would take, as Zach Plesac gave the Indians a strong outing on the mound before turning the ball over to the bullpen.
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One could argue that a 16-run explosion would have been the best way for the Tribe to bounce back from an abysmal three-game sweep at the hands of the Mets earlier in the week. But while that would have been encouraging and enjoyable to watch, Hand’s momentary reprieve from his recent struggles stands to have a much greater impact than any offensive onslaught.
The towering lefty gave up a leadoff single to Alex Gordon in the top of the ninth, undoubtedly striking the “here we go again” nerve in many a helpless onlooker. To his credit, he buckled down thereafter.
Hand induced a double play to pinch-hitter Cheslor Cuthbert, then forced a Bubba Starling groundout to seal the victory. The lefty’s scoreless ninth inning marked the first time since August 8 that he didn’t allow a run, and was also his first save in the same span.
It wasn’t the most efficient outing, as Cuthbert was able to work a full count before hitting into the double play, and Hand threw two errant sliders to Starling in the ensuing matchup. But the Indians will take it. Hand needed a get-right game, the Tribe needed a victory, and both of those items are now checked off the wish list for a day.
If a hitter is in a slump, he doesn’t necessarily need a three-run home run off the opposing team’s best pitcher to break out of it. He just needs a base hit to fall somewhere–anywhere–to remind himself he’s still capable of contributing to his team.
In that same regard, Hand didn’t need to shut down the heart of an All-Star-caliber lineup in order to start building his confidence back up. He just needed one outing in which things didn’t spiral wildly out of control.
Time will tell if Friday has any lasting impact on his mettle going forward, but at the very least, it was a step in the right direction. The Indians will look for two in a row on Saturday; maybe Hand gets yet another crack at finding himself on the mound and reestablishing himself as a late-game force.