The Mat Latos that pitched at Marlins Park last night was not the Mat Latos that the front office envisioned they had obtained in the off-season. The veteran had a bad outing to say the least. He surrendered seven runs in only two-thirds of an inning, and the Marlins never recovered. The game ended with a score of 12-2, but the bullpen was fairly impressive, on the whole. Brad Hand, Sam Dyson and Bryan Morris combined for one earned run over seven and one third innings before Steve Cishek faltered in the ninth.
As noted a couple of months ago, a strong starting rotation is critical if the Marlins want to make a postseason run. When the starters get into trouble early in games, it makes it very difficult for the team to win. These games, like on Tuesday, will happen, but its about minimizing the damage and giving the offense the best chance of winning the game. This is exactly what Brad Hand did against the Braves. The left-handed long-reliever walked the first batter he faced, but then settled in and pitched four-plus innings of shutout baseball.
Although the offense could only manufacture two runs, Hand held the Braves in check and stopped the deficit from growing further. If the Fish could have strung together a couple more good at-bats, they would have been right back in the game. Brad Hand did exactly what he was kept in Miami to do. Hand and David Phelps, who wasn't the sharpest while bailing-out Cishek in the ninth, are on the roster to pick up the slack if and when the starters don't get the job done.
When the offense hits its stride (and it will, don't panic!), performances like that from Hand on Tuesday will be invaluable to the team. If the Marlins are down early in a ballgame and the long-relievers can't stop the metaphorical bleeding, then the Marlins won't have a successful season. Miami will be able to score runs, but working behind from deficit after deficit is not a good formula for a team with playoff aspirations. This is why good performances by Phelps and Hand are vital. The organization considered dealing Hand during spring training as he was out of options and wasn't a sure bet to make the 25-man roster. The Marlins opted to retain their pitching depth though, and if Tuesday was any indication, they made the right choice.
Brad Hand has a lot of major league experience for a 25 year old, but he has only had limited success in parts of five seasons. Now he is starting to show more consistency in his performances. Many people will overlook his outing against the Braves as, ultimately, the Marlins lost by ten runs. However, sooner or later the Fish will be in a closer game, and a similar performance will be the difference between winning and losing. Stretch this out over the course of the season, and Brad Hand (along with David Phelps) could be the difference between a playoff spot and an early winter vacation for the Marlins in 2015.