Hol­land’s re­turn was never that risky a move

The re­liever knew all along he’d be fine, and the whole team has ben­e­fited.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

The Rock­ies were well on the way to a rocket start May 14 when the Los An­ge­les Dodgers came to Coors Field and Greg Hol­land stepped in their way. Chase Ut­ley came to bat in the ninth in­ning with the game on the line.

Hol­land — Colorado’s closer, the veteran recla­ma­tion project pitch­ing with a sur­gi­cally re­con­structed el­bow — threw a first pitch to Ut­ley that nearly no one in the park ex­pected: a slow-mo­tion rain­bow curve­ball for a strike.

Af­ter he breezed through a 12-3 ninth in­ning with three strike­outs, Hol­land was asked about the dar­ing pitch to Ut­ley that froze time.

“I never thought of it be­ing that gutsy of a pitch,” said Hol­land, re­ject­ing the idea that any­thing he does car­ries any un­in­tended risk. “I just thought about get­ting ahead and not show­ing

my best break­ing ball.”

Hol­land is now a three­time all-star, set to be avail­able for the Na­tional League in the Mid­sum­mer Clas­sic on Tues­day night in Mi­ami. In his first sea­son with the Rock­ies, af­ter miss­ing an en­tire sea­son be­cause of Tommy John surgery and af­ter Colorado signed him to an in­cen­tive-heavy con­tract, Hol­land is back among the game’s best closers. His 28 saves be­fore the break, in 29 op­por­tu­ni­ties, are the most in the ma­jors.

But nearly noth­ing he does is risky. Af­ter six sea­sons with the Kansas City Royals, in­clud­ing two as an elite closer, Hol­land pitches with a calm con­fi­dence ca­pa­ble of lock­ing down a ninth in­ning, when baserun­ners are threat­en­ing and when the heart of an or­der is star­ing back.

“That’s why I clinged to him,” said Wade Davis, the Chicago Cubs’ all-star closer who pitched with Hol­land in Kansas City. “I wanted to feel like that when­ever I was in the bullpen. I wanted to see what he was all about. A lot of it is just never giv­ing in. When it comes down to it, that’s what pretty much sums him up.”

When Hol­land signed a base $7 mil­lion con­tract with a mu­tual op­tion with the Rock­ies in Jan­uary, it seemed like a team-friendly deal for a player try­ing to prove his health. But, by June 25, when Hol­land had pitched to fin­ish his 30th game this sea­son, in­cen­tives kicked in to turn that mu­tual op­tion into a $15 mil­lion player op­tion next sea­son. He is well on his way to dou­bling his salary this sea­son with bonuses, then find­ing a lu­cra­tive deal on the open mar­ket next sea­son.

Join­ing the Rock­ies when other teams were worried about hand­ing him the closer’s role was not a gam­ble. And the move has al­ready paid off.

“He has per­formed at a very high rate in ev­ery game he pitched in,” Rock­ies man­ager Bud Black said.

Then the man­ager re­layed a story of Hol­land’s self-as­sur­ance in an ex­change among him and pitch­ing coaches Steve Fos­ter and Dar­ren Holmes.

“I can’t re­mem­ber which game it was, where we were, but he threw a high vol­ume of fast­balls to get a save,” Black said. “And Fostie and Holmey af­ter the game asked him: ‘Dude, what’s with all the fast­balls? Where was the slider?’ And he goes, ‘You know, when I was throw­ing the fast­ball tonight, I could tell they weren’t go­ing to hit it, so I kept throw­ing it.’ He goes by feel so much.”

Hol­land has a 1.62 ERA in 35 games, in­clud­ing 34 games fin­ished, the most in baseball. He has av­er­aged 11.6 strike­outs per nine in­nings.

Colorado’s rise in the Na­tional League — the Rock­ies hold a healthy lead for the sec­ond wild-card spot — is due in large part to a pitch­ing turn­around. In the bullpen, it worked back to front, with Hol­land lock­ing down the ninth in­ning well enough to spread con­fi­dence even through the team’s hit­ters. When he was named to a third All-Star Game, by a vote of play­ers and man­agers, it was an­other in a line of bench­marks in Hol­land’s re­turn to baseball’s elite reliev­ers.

“It is spe­cial. I took a few min­utes with my wife to en­joy that mo­ment,” Hol­land said. “We sat out­side and talked about where I’ve been and about get­ting back. And I told her how ap­pre­cia­tive I am of her be­ing there for me.

“But it’s also some­thing I try not to dwell on. The most im­por­tant thing is us get­ting to where I think we can go. And the only way to do that is to worry about to­day and worry about to­mor­row to­mor­row.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Greg Hol­land al­ready has 28 saves for the Rock­ies.

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