Judging the Royals

An exclusive interview with Greg Holland

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

That headline “An exclusive interview with Greg Holland” sounds pretty cool and if I was a Royals fan, I’d be sure to read this article. But in this case “exclusive interview” means I walked over to talk to Greg while all the other reporters were gathered around Paulo Orlando. For all I know, 20 other reporters talked to Greg after I left, but when I was there it was just me, so the “exclusive” description is technically correct and I’m sticking with it.

Thursday was “getaway day” and Greg was tossing some stuff in a bag as he prepared for the trip to Tampa Bay. I asked if he had time for a question and Greg said as long as the question wasn’t a dumb one — I offered to leave right then. (He was kidding, I wasn’t. I have great faith in my ability to ask a question that sounds smart in my head and dumb once it leaves my mouth. Hang on a second and you’ll see what I mean.)

Greg had not pitched in five days and has been described as having a “cranky” arm. Here’s the brilliant question I came up with: “They say you have a cranky arm; what the $%#@ does that mean?” (See? You can’t teach these kinds of skills in journalism school; you just have the instincts of an investigative reporter or you don’t.)

Greg thought about it for a moment and said cranky arm just meant “general stiffness.” Reporters love easy stories and injuries are an easy story. Of course, easy stories can also mean inaccurate stories; things are generally a bit more complex than we want to believe. If the story becomes too complex it’s not easy anymore.

Greg didn’t say it Thursday afternoon, but I’ve heard him say it before: at this point of the season nobody is 100 percent. So, yeah, he’s going through a “cranky” arm period, but it’s not unusual. Wade Davis — who’s about as close to being a pitching robot as we’re likely to see anytime soon — recently suffered through a stiff back. Being completely healthy over the course of 162 games?

Now that would be unusual.

Holland’s velocity

On Thursday, Holland came in to pitch the ninth inning; the Royals were up 5-1 on the Orioles. Before the inning was over it would be 5-3. Greg gave up three hits and two runs and that raised some questions.

The first batter Greg faced was Steve Pearce. Holland threw him three fastballs and one slider, but all three fastballs registered 90 mph on the radar gun. When I pointed that out to Greg, he said with mock awe: “I was throwing 90? That’ll get you drafted!”

Me: “If you’re 18.”

Smart pitchers pay less attention to the radar gun that the rest of us do. They know that 92 with movement is better than 96 without. I’ve heard pitchers say they wish they’d get rid of the radar gun or at least not show the readings on the scoreboard. Maybe then people would quit freaking out about the numbers they see.

Greg said if he’d known he was only throwing 90 he would’ve tried to throw harder (once again he was kidding), but if he’d tried to throw harder, he might’ve given up four runs instead of two.

At some point Greg did throw harder and he was hitting 95 and 96 on the radar gun, but in his mind, the fastball wasn’t the problem. Once Greg got serious, he said Jonathan Schoop doubled on a good pitch and it was — Schoop served a soft lob down the right-field line that nobody could get to in time. Other than that, the problem was hung sliders. Caleb Joseph doubled on one and Manny Machado hit a single on another.

I asked Greg if he was happy with his stuff by the end of the inning and he said yes. That led me to ask if the five days off might have meant he wasn’t fully loosened up and ready to go early in the inning. We sometimes see a reliever get whacked around for a couple batters and then pitch lights out. Sometimes that’s because the reliever isn’t fully warmed up or is adjusting to the game mound or he’s shaking off rust from five days off.

Greg was honest and said he didn’t really know if the five days off had anything to do with throwing 90 mph at the beginning of the inning, but by the end of the inning he was throwing 96 and liked his slider.

The Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough discusses the Royals 4-1 win over the Angels on Friday, Au. 14th.

Closers are different

Here’s a story that might shed some light on Greg Holland’s mind-set:

I think it was a couple seasons ago that Holland came in to close a game and things went wrong. I don’t recall whether he blew the save, but it was a bad day for him, and afterward reporters gathered around his locker. One of the reporters offered the suggestion that a bad outing could be a learning experience.

I didn’t write Greg’s response down, but he offered it with a straight face and a Carolina drawl and it went something like this: “I’ve been givin’ it up since I was 11 years old; if there’s was something to learn from it, you’d think I woulda learned it by now.”

Closers need great stuff and the right attitude. If they get freaked out by blowing a save or a bad outing, they don’t have what it takes to close. Greg Holland has a “cranky” arm and is not lighting up the radar gun with every fastball, but he’s still got the closer attitude: he’s not getting panicked out even though some Royals fans and reporters are.

To be honest, I’ve got no idea whether what’s going on with Holland (he’s gone from a 1.44 ERA last season to a 3.92 this season) means he’s hitting the downward slope of his career or it’s just an aberration. I’m not sure Holland knows either.

But I do know this: Greg Holland doesn’t seem to be freaking out about it.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.