Sleight of Hand: Lefty pulls Houdini escape act

Padres lefty works out of bases-loaded, no-out jam; Green won't name him closer

Sleight of Hand: Lefty pulls Houdini escape act

NEW YORK -- Brad Hand didn't know he'd be closing Wednesday night until the bullpen phone rang in the top of the ninth inning.

The Padres left-hander certainly didn't take the easy route, loading the bases in the bottom of the frame before he recorded an out. But Hand struck out two Mets before getting Juan Lagares to fly out to right field, sealing a thrilling 6-5 victory at Citi Field.

"No drama at all," Padres manager Andy Green joked afterward. "Just a really easy save for a guy getting his first save of the year."

Hand found himself in that position after he flipped roles with Brandon Maurer, who had served as the Padres' closer up until Wednesday night. Maurer has struggled lately, while Hand has been one of baseball's best setup men since the Padres claimed him off waivers from Miami last April.

Green wouldn't commit to naming Hand as his closer going forward, saying he'd prefer to look at things situationally. But he hinted that Hand could very well find himself in that spot again.

Hard to argue with that logic, after Hand's escape act on Wednesday.

"It doesn't really matter what my role is," Hand said. "Whenever my name is called in the bullpen, that is when I'm going to pitch. That's the way I look at it. Whatever you can do to help the team win the ballgame, it doesn't really matter what inning you pitched in."

In 26 frames this season, Hand has posted a 1.73 ERA, while striking out 35 hitters. He's become especially adept at using punchouts to work out of trouble, and Green has called Hand "a low-heart-rate guy" on multiple occasions. He did so again Wednesday night, and that moniker never seemed more fitting.

Neil Walker opened the ninth with a single to left, and Lucas Duda followed with a walk. Wilmer Flores then bounced a broken-bat chopper through the left side, but the Mets opted to hold Walker at third base with no one out, setting the stage for Hand's heroics.

"You've got to bear down, try to keep that run from scoring from third," Hand said. "I was trying to get two strikeouts right there. It just worked out."

Come non-waiver Trade Deadline time, the Padres will likely receive significant interest in Hand, especially after last October's bullpen revolution. The comparisons to Andrew Miller seem especially apt, considering Hand's ability to pitch multiple innings. He's also been dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate, and he has a penchant for swings and misses. Among relief pitchers, only Miller and Dellin Betances have more K's than Hand's 146 since the start of last year.

For now, Hand is the Padres' closer. Unless, of course, he isn't. Green wasn't about to label him as such Wednesday night.

"[I'm] not probably getting into those descriptions at this point in time," Green said. "It's going to be looking at the game and seeing what's best for the group of guys we have at that point in time. I think we'll just bounce guys around and utilize them in the best way possible going forward right now.

"Wouldn't be shocked at all to see Brandon Maurer in that situation in the ninth. Wouldn't be shocked to see Brad Hand back in that situation."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.