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Colin Holderman Thriving, Confident Rest of Bullpen Follows Suit

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Colin Holderman, Pittsburgh Pirates

Against the odds, Colin Holderman has been far and away the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best relief pitcher this season.

It’s not to say he’s not talented. Holderman has shown since joining the Pirates that he’s more than capable of getting outs and pitching in high-leverage situations. 

But Holderman’s season began on the injured list after a nasty illness resulted in a trip to the hospital while the Pirates were at spring training in Bradenton, Fla.

The lost time – and lost weight – hasn’t bothered Holderman through the first two months of the season.

“It was definitely a challenging experience this spring, a spring I didn’t want to have because I had a good offseason,” Holderman said. “I gained some good weight and ended up losing it. But honestly, just taking it a day at a time, how I feel and what I need to get ready.”

The flu that Holderman battled resulted in him losing 15 pounds. He credits his family as well as team trainers and nutritionists for getting him back up to speed without missing a beat. 

Holderman returned to the mound after he was activated off the injured list on Apr. 11 and he’s tweaked his arsenal which seems to have led to his success. 

Last season, Holderman relied primarily on his sinker with relatively even usage for his sweeper and cutter.

The 28-year-old battled a wrist issue last season which landed him on the injured list in June.

Holderman has changed the way he holds his sweeper, leading to him relying more on what’s become his best pitch. He’s throwing his sweeper just over half of the time this year.

“It was honestly just because the wrist last year, I had a little bit of issues with that,” Holderman explained. “Throwing the sweeper, my grip last year was causing some pain so we switched the grip up and I’m able to throw that pain-free now so we can kinda do more of a 50/50 mix.”

The results for the right-hander have been nothing short of spectacular this season. Through his first 17 appearances, he has a 0.55 ERA. He’s only been charged with one run which came in his season debut against the Phillies in Philadelphia.

When he’s not striking guys out, which he’s done 22 times in 16.1 innings, he has excelled at inducing weak contact. The humble Holderman credits his catchers as much as anything else with his success.

“We got (Yasmani Grandal) and (Joey Bart) back there calling great games. They’re seeing the whole game. They’re seeing swings and reading swings,” he said. “I’m doing my part as well, watching the game. Even just throughout the at-bat, you can kinda tell what hitters are on and we’ve just done a good job diagnosing hitters and executing the plan.”

Though Holderman has been at his best this season, the rest of the Pirates’ bullpen has not.

The Pirates rank 27th in bullpen ERA at 4.85. Outside of Holderman, seemingly every reliever has had his struggles at one point or another.

However, the current Pirates’ relief ace feels like the bullpen, which was viewed as a strength heading into the season, will live up to that potential.

“I have the ultimate confidence in our guys,” said Holderman. “I know who we are and what we’re able to do, so I’m excited to see it happen.”

Though the Pirates’ bullpen has struggled, the starting pitching has been excellent. Rookies Paul Skenes and Jared Jones figure to be squarely in the Rookie of the Year race. Mitch Keller has looked great after a so-so start to the season. And though he’s scuffled a bit and left Sunday’s game with a groin injury, Martín Pérez has given the Pirates some good innings.

Holderman knows that if the bullpen does indeed get on the right track, the pitching staff can carry this team deep into the season.

If they’re doing what they’re doing and we’re staying fresh, it’s gonna be hard to get to us. If we keep this rolling, we’re gonna have a hot summer here.”

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