KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To last as a closer in major-league baseball, you have to do two things, according to Royals closer Greg Holland:
You’ve got be mentally tough enough to forget about yesterday, and smart enough to constantly change your game.
Holland appears to be on top of his game in both departments after posting the greatest season by a Royals’ closer in team history.
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And he was honored for that season Monday, bringing home the Royals’ Bruce Rice pitcher of the year award as voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). It was the second straight year that Holland has won the award, a feat last accomplished by Jeff Suppan in 2000 and 2001.
After a shaky start to the season, Holland became virtually invincible. He finished with 47 saves, besting the previous mark of 45 held by Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery.
Holland also had a 1.21 ERA and an incredible 0.86 WHIP.
“It was like, when Holly comes in the game, it’s game over,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said late in the season. “We all feel that way.”
But as great as 2013 was for Holland, he knows the key to longevity is all about conquering the cerebral part of the game.
“I think I’ve made a lot of strides from my rookie season in terms of the mental side,” he said during a conference call Monday. “You have to learn that if you have a rough outing, you have to put it aside. It takes some time to learn that.
“And, of course, you have to keep yourself physically ready. You have to give yourself a chance and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to play 10 years (in that role).”
It also is important, Holland notes, to stay somewhat unpredictable.
“I think good hitters really study you and learn your tendencies,” he said. “I’ve talked to Billy (Butler) a lot about what he looks at. He really does his homework on how pitchers tend to pitch good hitters. You can’t just go out there and throw the same pitches in the same pattern.
“You have to mix it up.”
As good a season as Holland had, it didn’t start well for the 27-year-old. He blew a save early in April in Philadelphia, then couldn’t finish a save the next night and had to be rescued by Kelvin Herrera, whom many fans were hoping would be the new closer.
But Holland persevered and gave up just five earned runs the rest of the season while saving 46 of 48 opportunities from the Philadelphia series on.
“I think you just have to stay confident,” he said. “I didn’t panic. I remember talking to (pitching coach) Dave Eiland at that time and I was upset because I was costing us games. But I told him ‘I don’t think I’m wild or anything.’ And I didn’t want to be someone I was not.
“I think I was really trying to throw strikes so much on the first pitch, I was starting to aim it. And I can’t do that. I can’t be afraid to get behind in the count because it takes away from my pitches. I think I just got back to being who I am and it worked out.”
It certainly did. And now that Holland can look back on his record-breaking season, what are his impressions?
“Well, I’m really pleased with the way I went about my business,” he said. “But I’m pleased for all of us. We’re a young group of guys who all got some experience and played at a highly competitive level. That’s what I’m really pleased about, too.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email email@example.com.