This is not the first time that I will be pointing out that Brad Hand has been going through a rough patch in recent weeks, but it is the first time in awhile that there are some encouraging signs to report. Hand’s save against the Twins on Sunday — his 34th of the season — was not entirely without drama, as he put LaMonte Wade Jr. on first base with two outs with a hit-by-pitch and then moved him up to second base with a four-pitch walk to Jonathan Schoop. It took seven pitches, but Hand ended the threat by striking out recently-acquired Ryan LaMarre with a 92.9 mph fastball on the inside edge of the strike zone.
It’s that fastball velocity that should have Hand’s fantasy owners breathing a sigh of relief. He threw 14 fastballs, and they averaged 92.1 mph in velocity. This marks the first time in five appearances that his average fastball velocity exceeded 92 mph. However, only one of his 22 total pitches induced a swinging strike, so there is still some reason for concern. While Hand has held the opposition scoreless in five of his last six outings, his SwStr% over that span is still just 8.5 percent.
In getting the final two outs against the Cubs in the Brewers’ 8-5 victory on Sunday, Josh Hader recorded his 29th save of the season and extended his string of consecutive scoreless appearances to seven. This recent stretch has encompassed 9.1 innings, during which Hader has allowed a double, a single and a walk while tallying 15 strikeouts. It’s hard to believe that the Brewers’ closer is only a little more than three weeks removed from a lengthy slump. Between July 1 and Aug. 17 — roughly one-quarter of the season — Hader had a 6.19 ERA with seven home runs allowed over 16 innings. As volatile as he had been up until fairly recently, Hader is back to being one of the top relievers in fantasy. In fact, he has been the highest-ranking reliever in Roto value over the last 15 days, according to ESPN’s Player Rater.
We can also add Raisel Iglesias to the list of closers who has recently overcome a difficult stretch. He improved to 3-11 on Sunday, as he pitched a scoreless top of the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks with a 3-3 tie. In the bottom of the inning, the Reds walked off on Michael Lorenzen’s pinch-hit RBI double off T.J. McFarland. (The Reds’ setup reliever is now 7 for 21 at the plate this season.) Since allowing six runs on 11 hits over 2.2 innings with a 6.2 percent SwStr% over the final nine days of August, Iglesias has reeled off four straight hitless and scoreless innings with six strikeouts and a 13.3 percent SwStr%. It’s also encouraging that he has averaged at least 95.9 mph in fastball velocity in each of these four outings. Iglesias threw that hard in only one of his prior five appearances.
Iglesias only had a chance for a win because Eugenio Suárez homered off Jimmie Sherfy in the bottom of the eighth inning in order to tie the game. That is normally a spot where Kevin Ginkel would pitch, but he was unavailable due to concerns about his workload. Sherfy got the save in Saturday’s win, as Archie Bradley was off-limits after having pitched in three straight games over a four-day period. While this weekend’s usage patterns might suggest otherwise, Sherfy is unlikely to have much value in any format going forward.
Quick hits: Héctor Neris (24), Liam Hendriks (19) and Carlos Martínez (19) each got a save on Sunday…The Giants may be working around injuries to their two highest-leverage relievers. Will Smith was not needed for Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Dodgers, but he was unavailable for Saturday’s 1-0 win, which was saved by Jandel Gustave, due to a tight back. Tony Watson has not pitched since falling on his wrist while making a tag on Kolten Wong on Wednesday…Jesse Hahn’s return from surgery on his torn UCL has been an unqualified success so far. He has had two scoreless one-inning relief appearances for the Royals, the most recent being against the Marlins on Sunday. Hahn has thrown 25 pitches and has racked up eight swinging strikes, helping him towards a total of four strikeouts…Danny Hultzen made his long-awaited major league debut for the Cubs on Sunday, tossing a scoreless inning against the Brewers and getting all three outs by way of strikeouts. The former Mariners prospect was the second overall pick of the 2011 draft…Aaron Barrett had a successful comeback this weekend as well, pitching a scoreless frame for the Nationals against the Braves on Saturday. It was Barrett’s first appearance since 2015, as he has been working his way back from a broken humerus in his right elbow.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.