With rotation depleted, Brad Hand steps up for Marlins

MIAMI — It took a team effort for the Miami Marlins to beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 on Tuesday night at Marlins Park.

Dee Gordon dazzled with his defense. Marcell Ozuna’s bases-clearing double proved to be the decisive at-bat. Giancarlo Stanton added an insurance run with his 16th homer. Sam Dyson, Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos tossed three scoreless innings of relief.

Left-hander Brad Hand, in just his second start of the season, set the tone by allowing just two runs on six hits over six innings for the victory. With three of the rotation’s Opening Day starters on the disabled list, he had been thrust back into a once-familiar role a week ago.

"I think it speaks volume to the mindset here," manager Dan Jennings said. "It’s team first. He’s come out of the ‘pen and was able to stretch himself out. We tried to hold him to a certain pitch count in Pittsburgh, around 75, and he did that, and tonight we extended him even further. Great effort by him to set the tone."

After a leadoff single by Dexter Fowler in the first, Hand induced a 6-4-3 double play. Following a walk, he forced Junior Lake to ground out. Hand worked around a two-out double in a scoreless second.

In the third, the Cubs got their only two runs on consecutive RBI doubles by Anthony Rizzo and Lake. Hand, who struck out two batters and walked another two over 85 pitches (47 strikes), retired 10 of his final 11 hitters.

Hand also helped himself at the plate by leading the decisive fifth inning off with a single. Gordon would reach on a bunt single and Martin Prado singled to load the bases. Though both Stanton and Justin Bour failed to drive in a run, Ozuna cleared the bases with a double.

"My two-seam fastball has been working really well, getting a lot of groundballs with it," said Hand, whose pitch limit was 90. "I’ve been falling behind in the count a little bit throwing a lot of balls, but somehow I manage to get back in the zone and get a groundball or get an out."

Marlins vs. Cubs

The 25-year-old lefty improved to 5-18 with a 4.40 ERA in 33 career starts since making his debut on June 7, 2011. Out of options, Hand has made the Opening Day roster in back-to-back seasons as the club’s long reliever. Due to various circumstances, he has found himself inserted into a starter’s role.

Despite his inconsistency, Miami never gave up on the former second-round pick in the 2008 draft.

"He’s a little bit effectively wild in a good way because he can execute a pitch when he needs to," Jennings said. "He started about the third inning to get the breaking ball over, and once he does that he can truly open both sides of the plate. He’s very effective when he can do it."

During a stretch from July 3-Aug. 5, 2014, Hand posted a 2.72 ERA over seven starts after working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. He focused on getting quick outs by forcing early contact. Last week in Pittsburgh, he pitched five scoreless frames, scattering four hits with two strikeouts in a no decision in his return to the starting role.

As a reliever, Hand is 1-1 with a 4.39 ERA in 35 outings. All but three of his 135 minor-league appearances came as a starter. The feeling and routine of going every fifth day is a familiar one for him.

"Whatever they want me to do I’m willing to do it," Hand said. "Obviously I’d rather start, but whatever I can do to help the team whether it’s in the bullpen or starting I’m willing to do it. … I know I can start here. I’m very confident that I can. I just have to go out there and trust my stuff and let it work for me."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.