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 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.”
Greg Holland already has 28 saves for the Rockies.