Commentary: Holland as good as ever in the early going

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) warms up in the bullpen during Spring Training at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on February 22 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The McDowell native has been impressive as the closer for the resurgent Rockies.

John Leyba/Courtesy of The Denver Post

A good number of Major League Baseball teams during this past offseason questioned whether Greg Holland had it in him to become a major league closer again coming off a lengthy recovery from Tommy John Surgery.

As we are now in the second full weekend of the 2017 MLB season, the McDowell County native has emphatically responded to his skeptics. Holland is off to an impressive start early on, closing games for the Colorado Rockies.

Going into the second game of a weekend series against the San Francisco Giants, Holland has been perfect on the mound for the Rockies and first-year manager Bud Black, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

In six innings pitched, Holland has been just about untouchable in the ninth, allowing two hits, striking out eight and walking a pair. Both hits allowed were infield singles in Thursday night’s save in San Francisco.

Going into the weekend, Holland’s half-dozen saves led the majors, with Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton in second with four and several others with three saves apiece.

Even though it’s been a limited sample size, Holland looks to be regaining his status as one of baseball’s best with the game on the line.

Holland’s fast start is a piece in the Colorado puzzle that has allowed the Rockies to get off to a 7-4 start at the start of the weekend. He’s also anchoring down a revamped bullpen that has provided encouraging results for Colorado early on.

Holland, along with setup men Adam Ottavino, Jake McGee and Mike Dunn, has given manager Black a good bridge in the late innings from a young starting rotation. The team won five of its first six contests and continued to sit at the top of the National League West.

The impressive return for Holland comes after a long recovery period going back to August of 2015 when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament while pitching for the Kansas City Royals. He elected to have surgery in late September of that year. The surgery prevented the Royals’ 2007, 10th-round draft pick from playing in the World Series that year, plus, it cost him all of the following season.

As a free agent in 2016, Holland’s time without an official home spanned through most of this past offseason. Last November, he took part in a showcase out in Arizona for several MLB teams. In that workout, the velocity on his fastball was observed in the upper 80s. At that moment, the sub-90-mph heat might have scared away a number of the squads who evaluated him. It wasn’t until late January of this year when the Rockies’ front office put together a one-year, incentive-laden contact with a vested option for 2018, a deal that went down fairly quickly between Holland and his new team.

But any fears over Holland’s velocity have been laid to rest in a hurry. In his first six outings, Holland hit the 93-95 mph range consistently. That, in turn, has allowed him to utilize his devastating slider, still one of the nastiest in the game.

With the Rockies’ combination of an improved pitching staff to go along with a potent everyday lineup, some national baseball analysts have pegged them as a team that could be in the hunt for a National League wild card berth in 2017. Colorado’s last postseason outing came in 2009 as a wild card, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Divisional Series in four games.