KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With the trade of Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati last summer and the Royals’ decision to pass on Joakim Soria’s contract option last week, the path has been cleared for Greg Holland to become the Royals’ closer perhaps for years to come.
But Holland, 26, isn’t exactly relieved they’re gone.
“Sure, I’d love to be the closer for years,” he said in a teleconference call Tuesday. “But I’d love to have both of those guys back. I don’t manage (the roster) or know how all that works but they were great to have here.
“I learned a lot from them. They’re quiet guys, and you never knew whether they won or they lost, but I could learn just from watching them and how they went about their jobs.”
Holland evidently learned quite a bit. He made 67 appearances with the Royals in 2012 and finished with a 2.96 ERA and 16 saves. He also struck out 91 in 67 innings.
Those numbers made him a rather easy choice as the Royals’ Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year, an honor bestowed upon him Tuesday.
“I feel pretty great about that,” Holland said. “I’m proud of how I came back after struggling out of the gate and coming back from injuries. I felt responsible for losing a bunch of games early.”
As Holland was dealing with rib and back issues, his command suffered in April and the results weren’t pretty – he had a whopping 11.37 ERA through the first seven games before he finally went on the disabled list.
When Holland came back, he was simply phenomenal. Over his next 16 appearances, he was nicked for just one run.
It got even better. After Broxton was traded and Holland inherited the closer’s job, he gave up just one run in 14 1/3 innings in the month of August while going 9-for-9 in save situations. He also picked up two wins.
“When I was hurt, I really couldn’t drive to the bottom of the mound,” Holland said. “That means I wasn’t finishing my pitches and you know what happens when pitches get elevated – they get hit.
“But once I talked to the trainers and I felt healthy again, I was able to drive off my pitches again. Plus, we made a small mechanical change – I stopped finishing so violently to the first-base side. It’s something I talked to Luke (Hochevar) about and he agreed completely. Then I talked to (pitching coach) Dave (Eiland) about it and he said he’d been wanting me to change that from the beginning.
“But sometimes it takes hearing it from other people to make that change.”
Holland’s new delivery made him a dominant closer, but having the job hasn’t changed his mindset this off-season.
“Not really,” he said. “I think closing (games) is as hard as you make it. It’s a hard job but I now that when I was pitching out of jams in the sixth or seventh innings, it was just as hard some times. A lot of times I didn’t have a three-run lead to work with. It is what you make of it.”
Holland said he doesn’t necessarily pattern himself after any one closer, though he has a lot of respect for guys like Soria, Broxton and, of course, Mariano Rivera.
“With (Rivera), he makes it look so easy,” Holland said. “And believe me, it’s not easy. But I also respect the fact that guys like him have done it so well for so many years.
“A lot of guys with really good stuff can do it for two or three years but they can’t keep going the way someone like Rivera has. That’s amazing.”
Holland will be a key component to one of the top bullpens in baseball again in 2013, and while he admits he doesn’t keep close tabs on the Royals’ off-season moves, he feels this team is scary close to being a playoff contender.
“I haven’t followed a whole lot of what we’re doing,” he said. “After the season, I kind of go into my own shell. But I do know we got (Ervin) Santana….
“I just think we’re really close. If every guy just makes a little adjustment here and there, that’s all it takes to turn this around. It can happen fast.”