Hand to represent Padres at All-Star Game

Hand to represent Padres at All-Star Game

SAN DIEGO -- Brad Hand never made it to Marlins Park last April. A year and a half later, he is headed back as an All-Star.

Hand, who was cut by Miami before Opening Day in 2016, is set for a triumphant return on July 11 as the Padres' representative in the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard.

Since the Padres plucked him off waivers last spring, Hand has revitalized his career, turning himself into one of the game's most durable and versatile relief weapons. In 38 appearances this season, Hand owns a 2.47 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 43 2/3 innings.

"It's kind of crazy full-circle," Hand said. "If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I'd be coming back as an All-Star, I would've never believed that. I'm just trying to get better every day, and [I've] taken the opportunity here and ran with it."

In a pregame meeting before Sunday's 5-3 victory over the Dodgers, pitching coach Darren Balsely delivered the news in front of the team. For Hand, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., during the offseason, it's a homecoming of sorts. His entire family, including his daughter Lila and wife Morgan, will be in attendance.

Cast your Esurance Final Vote

Hand largely credits increased opportunity for his turnaround in San Diego, and he's certainly been given a chance to pitch. Since signing with the Padres, he's made 121 appearances and thrown 133 relief innings -- both tops in the Majors.

"He wanted the ball every single day, in a way that I've never seen paralleled with anybody else," manager Andy Green said. "The more I gave him the ball, the stronger he got, and the better his stuff got and the more his velo went up. You started to realize this is the perfect demeanor for a Major League reliever."

At times, Green added, it's not easy to inform Hand that he's being given the day off. He recalled a conversation with Hand in the outfield at AT&T Park, in which Green told Hand he'd receive a day of rest.

Hand on being an All-Star

Hand, as he always does, replied by telling Green he felt fine. He then grabbed a baseball, turned toward the fence and uncorked a throw beyond the left-field bleachers and into the center of the giant glove overlooking the ballpark. Hand turned back to Green and told him, "I'm fine, let me pitch."

After last October's bullpen revolution, Hand -- a strikeout prone lefty who can pitch multiple innings -- is understandably a hot commodity on the trade market.

"I'd be lying if I hadn't seen those rumors, but that's out of my control," Hand said. "Whatever happens, at the end of the day, that's out of my control. I'm happy here in San Diego."

Clearly. Only Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have recorded more relief K's than Hand's 162 since the start of last season. The biggest reason for Hand's increased whiff rate is the sharp slider he added to his arsenal late in 2015. It's the perfect middle ground between his late-life fastball and his looping curveball, and opponents are batting just .118 against it.

"Nobody can throw the same slider he throws," said fellow bullpen southpaw Ryan Buchter. "It doesn't make sense. But he does it, and it gets hitters out."

Hand bound for Miami

His arsenal is undeniably filthy. But in Green's eyes, Hand's best trait is his demeanor.

"The best compliment you can give a reliever, really, is when you have a bad day -- and they all will -- the next day, you know he's going to be good again," Green said. "He's got that kind of mental strength. And he hasn't had many bad days; he's had mostly all good days. But he's got mental strength that very few in the game have."

Fans can cast ballots for the 2017 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote on MLB.com, Club sites and their mobile devices until 1 p.m. PT on Thursday. The winners, as chosen exclusively by online fan voting totals, will then be announced during "MLB Tonight" live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. Extensive coverage throughout the Final Vote will be provided by MLB Network and MLB.com, including interviews with the candidates, frequent updates, heat maps indicating where votes are being cast for each candidate, news on player and club campaigns, and a running countdown clock leading up to the announcement.

Now in its 16th season, with more than 680 million votes cast, the Final Vote again will include social votes on the last day of balloting, as Twitter support for the 10 candidates over the final six hours of balloting will count toward their vote totals. From 7 a.m.-1 p.m. PT on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the official vote total used to determine the winners.

On Tuesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m. PT, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

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.