A day after Royals closer Greg Holland gave up two runs in his first appearance in five days, manager Ned Yost indicated Holland is still batting stiffness in his right elbow, hours before Holland struck out a pair in a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay.
The condition manifested in reduced velocity, with his fastball clocking as low as 90 mph, at the start of his outing against Baltimore. A different pitcher took the mound on Friday evening against the Rays. Holland’s fastball sat at 92 mph, but he utilized his slider to bulldoze his three opposing batters.
“We talked to Hollie today,” Yost said. “And he said, ‘I really great. Really, I do. I feel good.’ It goes back to trusting your people. It’s his job. Go do it. I was very encouraged by what I saw.”
Before the game, Yost continued to express confidence in Holland, an All-Star in 2013 and 2014. For a brief spell on Friday, he recaptured that form. The trouble for the Royals is finding consistency for Holland, who has been beset by physical and mechanical difficulties this season. His ERA is still 3.83.
With his fastball velocity decreasing, Holland has had less success tricking hitters into chasing his offspeed pitches. In the process he has become one of the most walk-prone hitters in baseball.
Rival scouts say if hitters can recognize a slider out of Holland’s hand, they know enough to lay off the pitch, as Holland cannot consistently command it for a strike. In turn, Holland entered Friday with a career-worst 5.31 walks per nine, which ranked 375th among the 380 pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings this season.
Yost cannot wait to complete the final three games in August and enter September with expanded rosters. The Royals intend to stock their clubhouse with several extra pitchers so they can protect their bullpen for October. Wade Davis missed about a week in August with a stiff back, and Ryan Madson has also recently dealt with an onset of stiffness in his elbow and shoulder.
But Holland has to loom as the team’s greatest concern heading into October. Even if the Royals make a stunning decision and remove him from the closer’s role, he will still be expected to pitch high-leverage innings. Kansas City can only hope Holland can rediscover his form from previous seasons.
“It’s not anything that we can do to get him right, other than just continue to do his strength work with the trainers, and see how it goes,” Yost said. “It’s wear and tear. You just look at it and evaluate it, day to day.”