Things change fast in a closer’s life.
It was just a week ago that Greg Holland’s job at the back of the Royals’ bullpen appeared in jeopardy after a few narrow escapes for saves and one colossal meltdown.
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Holland is again secure in his role after becoming the first Royals pitcher in more than a decade to register saves in both ends of a doubleheader when he closed out Sunday’s sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“I know everyone said I was struggling,” he said. “That’s because it’s a results-oriented game. I wasn’t getting it done.
“But I felt good, and I knew it wouldn’t be a long process before I got back to getting outs like I know I can.”
Holland secured a 4-2 victory for Ervin Santana in the opener by blowing through the Red Sox in the ninth inning with two strikeouts and a routine fly ball to center.
When the Royals took a 5-4 lead in the nightcap by scoring the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning, manager Ned Yost again summoned Holland.
“I was wondering,” Yost admitted, “what his stuff was going to be like after saving the first game. He came out and had dynamic stuff in the second game.”
Holland topped his first-game save by striking out the side.
“Yeah, it was nice,” he said. “It would have been nice to throw three first-pitch ground balls, but I’m not going to complain.”
The doubleheader sweep was the first by the Royals at Fenway Park since May 31, 1971, when Ted Abernathy and Tom Burgmeier registered saves in victories for Bruce Dal Canton and Dick Drago.
The Royals, at the time, were in their third season, and Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett was an 18-year-old at El Segundo (Calif.) High School who had not yet been drafted.
Holland also became the first Royals pitcher to save both ends of a doubleheader in more than a decade. The last to do it was Roberto Hernandez on July 15, 2002, against Texas at Kauffman Stadium.
Hernandez secured victories for Shawn Sedlacek and Kris Wilson.
Sunday’s sweep enabled the Royals to win the three-game series at Boston, improve to 10-7 and hold on to first place in the American League Central Division as they enter a three-game series today in Detroit.
“It was a nice day,” Holland agreed, “for all of us.”
A lot nicer, particularly, for Holland than earlier in the month. Although he opened the season by registering two saves and a hold in his first four outings, he allowed four runs on five hits and six walks in three innings.
Holland also blew a save and got the loss on April 6 in Philadelphia when he walked the bases loaded with a two-run lead in the ninth inning before surrendering a three-run double with two outs.
Struggling or not, Holland’s early difficulties prompted calls from some quarters for Yost to look elsewhere in his deep bullpen for someone to close games.
The top alternative was Kelvin Herrera, who was dominant in early appearances before hitting his own rough patch last week in losses Tuesday in Atlanta and Saturday in Boston.
Yost stuck with Holland, who was picked last season as the Royals’ pitcher of the year after going 7-4 with a 2.96 ERA. He also had 16 saves in 18 chances as the closer after a July 31 trade sent Jonathan Broxton to the Reds.
“Just mind-set,” Yost said. “Going into (the season), you forget how to close a little bit. It’s, ‘I’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead,’ instead of just saying, ‘You know what? My stuff is great. I’m just attacking.’
“Once he figured that out, dynamite.”
Holland discussed his early problems with Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland. Their conclusion: Holland was overusing his fastball in an effort to get ahead in the count instead of aggressively mixing his three-pitch arsenal.
Returning to his old approach paid immediate dividends last Wednesday when Holland secured a 1-0 victory for Wade Davis in Atlanta by striking out the side in the ninth inning.
Add that to Sunday’s performance, and Holland has retired all nine batters in his last three outings while protecting leads of one run, two runs and one run. All but one of those outs were strikeouts.
“I never lost it,” Holland said. “That outing I had in Philadelphia was just one of those things. I wasn’t pitching to my strengths. I was pitching more to the scoreboard.
“I’ve got to go in there like it’s a one-run game. Throw three pitches at any time instead of just going out there and trying to throw fastball, fastball, fastball.
“That gets me out of my rhythm. It gets me out of my mechanics and my delivery. I always felt good. I just needed to get back to doing what I do.”