The last time reliever Greg Holland was at Kauffman Stadium, he wore a dark suit. It was April 5, 2016, the first week of the baseball season. Holland emerged from the first-base dugout and collected his 2015 World Series ring with the rest of his former Royals teammates.
More than 16 months later, Holland will return to Kansas City on Tuesday night when the Royals play host to the Colorado Rockies for a three-game interleague series. The reunion figures to be emotional. Holland is one of the best relievers in franchise history. A fanbase will have the chance to recognize a pitcher who helped the team to consecutive American League pennants in 2014 and 2015.
“I would’ve loved to have stayed there the next 15 years,” Holland told The Star’s Sam Mellinger last month at the All-Star Game in Miami.
“It just doesn’t work like that in baseball, especially for a relief pitcher.”
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Holland’s time in Kansas City did almost last a little longer. (More on that in a moment.) But at the age of 31, he is now in his first season as the Rockies’ closer after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the final months of the 2015 season and all of 2016. He signed an incentive-laden contract in January that guaranteed him $7 million and could pay him up to $35 million across two seasons, if all incentive thresholds are met.
As he returns to his old home, Holland is the National League leader with 35 saves in 38 opportunities this season. Yet he has struggled for much of August, blowing two saves and suffering a loss on Saturday after allowing three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. In his last seven appearances, Holland’s ERA has spiked from 1.60 to 3.22.
“He’s as mentally tough as they come,” Rockies manager Bud Black told The Denver Post after his two blown saves. “We talked about some of his throwing mechanics. We saw something on video. But on the mental side? No way.”
Holland displayed that mental fortitude in six seasons with the Royals. From 2010 to 2015, he posted a 2.42 ERA in 309 appearances, recording 145 saves and making two All-Star teams. He served as the Royals’ primary closer during their run to the 2014 World Series before injuring his ulnar collateral ligament and undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Holland nearly returned to the Royals before the 2016 season on a two-year contract. The club offered a deal that would’ve covered his rehab and guaranteed about $8.5 million, with up to $5 million more in performance bonuses. If the contract was completed, Holland would still be in a Royals uniform this season.
But Holland eventually declined the offer, preferring to rehab under the guidance of agent Scott Boras and head to the free-agent market again before the 2017 season.
“We just didn’t match up, the numbers weren’t right,” Holland said.