John Holdzkom was a needle in the haystack for the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. On June 24th of last season, the Pirates signed Holdzkom out of an independent baseball league to a minor league contract. The move went unnoticed, but by July 5th, Holdzkom was pitching in Triple-A and by September 2nd, Holdzkom was recalled and was pitching with the big league squad. In nine innings of work last season, Holdzkom had a 2.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and 14 strikeouts in just nine innings of work. His story gained national attention and he was in the running for a bullpen spot at the start of 2015.
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But even after a decent 3.38 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in spring training this year, Holdzkom was optioned to Triple-A on March 31st. He was the victim of having minor league options, as opposed to Radhames Liz, Arquimedes Caminero, and Stolmy Pimentel, who didn’t. But Liz is now pitching in Triple-A and Pimentel is in the Rangers’ organization, so why hasn’t Holdzkom been called up to the majors yet?
Well, there are a number of reasons for that. Holdzkom had a rough month of April, and ended it with an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 2.16. On May 8th, he was placed on the seven-day disabled list with shoulder fatigue.
The command was definitely a challenge for him. Before being placed on the DL, Holdzkom had walked 14 batters (one intentional) in just 11 1/3 innings. He still struck out 14 batters, but that was about all that was working in his favor. He held a 5.56 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP by the time May 8th hit.
Holdzkom didn’t return to game action until June 9th, but he managed to quickly turn his game around and took off from there. He only allowed one run in the month of June, lowering his ERA to 3.38 and his WHIP to 1.45. His command and his dominance had returned, as he walked only two batters while striking out 13 in 10 innings of work. But, unfortunately, Holdzkom would experience another setback. On July 1st, he was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, according to Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
So, what’s next for John Holdzkom? Will he return to living his dream by pitching in the majors? The Pirates will most likely look for a bullpen arm at the trade deadline, but Holdzkom could be an internal option that the team wouldn’t have to give up prospects to acquire. If he pitches anywhere near the dominant form he held last September and during June in Triple-A this season, he’ll be a more-than welcome addition to the bullpen. After all, Antonio Bastardo, even after a good week, came back down to earth recently and still isn’t pitching the way the Pirates thought he could when they acquired him in the offseason, as he holds a 4.18 ERA on the season. Even long-time minor leaguer Deolis Guerra is pitching now. Guerra definitely wasn’t in the plan for the Pirates this season, so I expect Holdzkom to get a shot at the big league squad before the trade deadline. Here’s hoping he comes back healthy and returns to dominant form.