Greg Holland woke up on Tuesday and couldn’t turn his head without pain.
“It never did get loose for me,” Holland said.
Holland, Royals trainers and manager Ned Yost agreed there was no reason to rush back one of the game’s premier closers.
“We had a fresh bullpen, so we figured we’d go ahead and take the day off,” Holland said before the Royals’ 7-1 victory over the Reds on Wednesday. “But I feel good, and I’m ready to go.”
But he didn’t go on Wednesday. Holland did not appear in the ninth inning, which isn’t usual. It wasn’t a save situation. The Royals initially had Kelvin Herrera warming up, but after tacking on two runs in the eighth, they quickly got Luke Hochevar warming up and he threw the ninth.
Holland warmed up in the ninth, but didn’t enter the game.
The injury wasn’t announced until after the Royals’ 3-0 victory over Tuesday, when Wade Davis pitched a perfect ninth inning for his seventh save.
“It was just one of those things,” Yost said. “You sleep funny. It happens to all of us.”
Herrera got the Royals through the eighth after starter Yordano Ventura tossed a dazzling seven innings.
Things have been going so well to the Central Division-leading Royals that an injury to a top-line player like Holland hardly caused a ripple. Tuesday, the remarkable strength of the Royals bullpen was on full display, as it’s been all season.
The Royals were without Holland, their two-time All-Star who won the inaugural Mariano Rivera Award last season as the top relief pitcher in the American League, and the Royals didn’t miss a beat.
Just as they didn’t earlier this season when Holland suffered a right pectoral strain and went on the disabled list for the first time since 2012.
The bullpen also has had to work around the absence of Herrera for a week as he served suspensions.
No matter. Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland mixed and matched a lineup of Hochevar, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales and Jason Frasor through the weeks.
The Royals own baseball’s best bullpen ERA (1.58 going into Wednesday’s game). And while ranking fifth in innings pitched the bullpen has allowed the third fewest hits (82) and fewest runs (25). The pen also tops baseball in lowest opponents’ batting average (.181) and lowest slugging percentage (.273).
Davis’ transition to closer when required has been seamless. In his seven saves, Davis has thrown seven innings, struck out 11, walked one and has surrendered four hits. He entered Wednesday’s game as the only pitcher to throw at least 12 innings this season — Davis has thrown 18 — without surrendering a run.
Before the game, Yost said he didn’t know if Holland would be available for the final series game against the Reds, but Holland said he was ready if needed.
Holland’s durability has never been an issue. Over the previous two years, he’s recorded 93 saves in 98 opportunities, the highest percentage (94.9) of conversions in that time.
He opened this year hot with saves in his first four appearances before the DL stint, and matched Davis with seven on the season entering Wednesday.