Greg Holland has fit a lot of life into the last three years.
Since the start of 2014, Holland has gone from being an All-Star closer on a Royals team that came within one win of a World Series win, to tearing up his elbow and then watching Kansas City win the World Series without him, to sitting out the entire 2016 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, to, finally, starting anew with the Colorado Rockies in 2017.
“Completely different state,” Holland said Sunday, after recording his 16th save for the Rockies in as many opportunities.
Holland meant “state” in the sense that he’s made the move west from Missouri to Colorado — answering a question about how he’s feeling health-wise by quipping about his actual physical location. Yes, Holland has relocated. But if the start to the 2017 season is any indication, he’s just as dominant on the mound as he was before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Holland struck out the side in the ninth inning to preserve a 9-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. He needed 16 pitches to sit down Chris Taylor, Chase Utley and Yasiel Puig. In doing so, he surpassed the Rockies franchise record for converted saves to start a season. (Jose Jimenez had 15 to begin the year in 2002.)
In 17 innings pitched this season, Holland’s numbers look like this: two earned runs, nine hits, five walks and 23 strikeouts. Put another way: Holland’s been so dominant, star third baseman Nolan Arenado was hesitant to praise him because he was nervous about a jinx.
“I think he’s perfect right now, so I don’t want to say anything,” Arenado said after going 2-for-4 with a double and 456-foot home run in the win. “He’s doing a great job. He competes. He never gives in. He trusts himself. He’s a smart guy. He works hard and knows what he’s doing out there. In the locker room he goofs around, but he’s pretty locked in, and he knows exactly what he needs to do to get done.”
Holland has helped transform the Rockies’ bullpen from an Achilles heel last season into a strength so far in this one. Colorado finished dead-last in bullpen ERA in 2016 with a 5.13 average. The Rockies’ bullpen ERA has dropped to 4.04 this year. They’ve got the eight-best bullpen ERA in baseball once you adjust for park factors.
Holland, who signed with Colorado on a one-year deal worth up to $7 million, has owned the ninth inning. That’s allowed other Rockies relievers to shift into slightly less prominent roles. Jake McGee and Adam Ottavino took turns closing for the Rockies last season. They’re now being inserted in the seventh and eighth innings and are performing well for a Colorado team that is 20-0 this year when leading after six innings.
“Getting to know Greg like I have here, he checks off all the boxes for quality guy at the end of the game,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He can turn the page, good or bad. He’s got two quality pitches. He throws strikes. He’s got deception. Again, he’s unflappable.”
Part of Holland’s approach as an elite late-game reliever is not getting too high or too low emotionally.
“I try to stay pretty complacent,” he said. “You’re going to struggle or you’re going to succeed. I like to stay as even-keeled as I can because this game will chew you up just about the time you think you’ve got it figured it out.”
Holland prefers to stay in the moment. He’s not particularly interested in discussing the meandering route he’s taken from being one of baseball’s best relievers, the injury that forced him out of the game for a year and a half or the path back.
“People have asked me, ‘Where do you think you’re at compared to where you were?’ I don’t think about that, comparing myself to me three years ago, maybe four years ago because I feel like I’m a better pitcher. I’m smarter. I know how to prepare, I know what my body needs. The doubt is not knowing what’s going to happen. I was apprehensive going into surgery obviously, but I knew I needed to have it. After the fact, you wake up as a competitor, and it’s like like, ‘OK, game on.'”
After spending the first seven seasons of his career as a Kansas City Royal, Holland is starting over. If this is the second act to something, it’s sure looked good in the early going.
“I enjoyed my time in Kansas City,” Holland said. “I’m really enjoying my time here. I love this area. It’s beautiful. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully we can keep winning.”
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.