Padres southpaw, Mariners righty tabbed as top bullpen arms in July
By Mark Newman
Padres left-hander Brad Hand and Mariners right-hander Edwin Diaz were named The Hartford National League and American League Relievers of the Month for July, respectively. The awards were announced on Wednesday by Major League Baseball.
Hand was one of the key names mentioned in the days leading up to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the Padres held onto their do-everything reliever as he spent Monday hanging out on the beach. He had a July to remember, going to his first All-Star Game, stretching his scoreless streak to 19 games and 19 1/3 innings (second only to Chris Sale this season), striking out 19 and walking two, and compiling an 0.88 WHIP.
"I never felt any pressure before the Deadline," Hand said. "You've just got to worry about the job at hand and worry about pitching. I don't think it weighed on me any more than today."
Hand, who led the Majors with 82 appearances last year, is enjoying a lights-out campaign largely on the back of a slider that's been one of the Majors' most lethal pitches this year -- throwing it nearly half the time and effective equally against lefties and righties.
Based on strikeouts and the quality of contact Hand has allowed on his slider, Statcast™ estimates that opponents should be batting just .100 against it this year. That's the lowest expected batting average for any pitcher who's ended at least 75 at-bats with a slider in 2017, with Hand followed by Cleveland's Andrew Miller (.103).
Diaz began the month by coming in to retire all four batters and stranding two runners in a 5-3 victory over the Angels for save No. 13, setting the tone. He made 13 appearances, converting eight of nine save opportunities, striking out 21 against five walks, and compiling a 0.95 WHIP, .163 opponents against average and .286 BABIP. His FIP of 1.18 led the AL in July.
From July 14-17, Diaz became the first reliever in Mariners history -- and the first MLB pitcher in a year -- to record saves in four consecutive games. Relying on a two-seamer that averages 97.36 mph, according to Statcast™, Díaz finished July allowing just one hit and one walk with nine strikeouts in his past four games. He has regained the form that made him a lock as a rookie in 2016, when he led MLB with 18 saves from Aug. 1 to the end of the season, citing his busy usage as a key to his recent success.
"That's helped me a lot," Diaz said. "I've started throwing a lot better the last couple weeks, the last month. I feel pretty good. They've given me the opportunity to throw in every close game, and I try to do my job. I feel really good right now."
The award is an extension of MLB's partnership with The Hartford, which annually presents the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year and Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year Awards. The winners are determined by a panel of industry experts.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.