A momentum shift could cost former KC Royals closer Greg Holland a roster spot with his old team.
A career coming full circle seemed within Greg Holland’s grasp when March 12 dawned on the KC Royals’ Arizona spring training base. He’d pitched for the sixth time three days before, giving up a walk and striking out one in a hitless one-inning appearance. For Holland, the brief stint marked a course correction after two bumpy appearances and appeared to reinforce his chances to return to the Royals’ bullpen.
Holland was the Royals’ no-nonsense closer from 2013 until late 2015, saving 125 games and anchoring the feared H-D-H bullpen triumvirate (Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis were the other components) until he gave in to a torn UCL that cut short his ’15 season. The Royals didn’t re-sign him and he next pitched for Colorado in 2017. He made the NL All-Star team, saved 41 games and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Only his 3.61 ERA suggested he’d lost something–3.83 in his injury-plagued 2015 was by far the highest he’d posted with KC.
But Holland had indeed lost something–he signed with St. Louis for 2018, but was released in August after going 0-2 with a 7.92 ERA with 22 walks and 34 hits in 25 innings. He caught on with Washington for the rest of the campaign and posted a 2-0 record, 0.84 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21.1 innings. But he crashed last season with Arizona–his 4.52 ERA, 6.1 BB9 and a series of blown saves led to another August release; he re-signed with the Nationals but only pitched in the minors.
Holland began the postseason as a minor league free agent; speculation that he might come home to Kansas City ended when he signed a minor league contract with the Royals and received a non-roster invitation to spring camp.
Holland pitched like the man on a mission that he was, striking out four and holding opponents scoreless through his first three one-inning stints. But he gave up a homer in his fourth game, then three hits (including another homer) and two runs in his fifth to push his ERA to 5.40. It was easy to wonder if Holland’s quest to make the club was unraveling.
He returned to form, though, in his next outing, that scoreless inning he threw March 9. March 12 would probably have been his next day to pitch, but instead became the day baseball stopped, and with it Holland’s journey back to Kansas City.
Once baseball starts up again, Holland’s margin for error will be slim. Save for his two shaky games, Holland was, to be sure, pitching well. But at age 34, he’s at a point where shakiness means more and is tolerated less. Momentum favored him for three games, then shifted just enough to call his comeback into question; whether his last game stabilized Holland remains to be seen and won’t be known until baseball resumes.
For Holland, momentum now means everything.