Pittsburgh Pirates may have a bullpen answer in John Holdzkom


Pittsburgh Pirates reliever John Holdzkom burst onto the scene in September of 2014 and provided a great shot in the arm to the Bucs’ bullpen.

Flash forward to July of 2015 and Holdzkom is gritting through a rehab assignment in low-A ball as a member of the West Virginia Black Bears.

It would be an understatement to call the last 11 months in Holdzkom’s career a roller coaster. It would also be an understatement to say that he may be the piece that the Pirates bullpen currently needs. To recap Holdzkom’s stint in the majors, let us now re familiarize ourselves with his work.

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This year, a lukewarm spring training, a push from Rob Scahill, and offseason pickups Arquimedes Caminero, Radhames Liz and Antonio Bastardo all conspired to keep Holdzkom out of the big-leagues. Relegated to Triple-A Indianapolis, Holdzkom struggled mightily with his control in April, walking ten batters in only 8.1 IP. his control got better in May and June until a shoulder injury sat him down.

Since then, Holdzkom has started a rehab stint with the Single-A West Virginia Black Bears of the New York-Penn League. By all accounts, he has impressed thus far. Our friend Josh Croup (follow him on twitter) recently shared us this video highlighting Holdzkom’s 1-2-3 outing last night.

For Holdzkom to be effective enough to rejoin the Pirates bullpen later this year, he will need to show consistent stretches with good control. If he can do that, there is a great chance that he may be the piece the front of the bullpen needs right now. Secondly, Holdzkom must improve in the ‘stuff’ department. He relied on his fastball (or palmball if you prefer) heavily last year, accounting for 85.4% of his pitches. While his fastball averaged 95.5mph, his cutter was equally as devastating at 94.6. We have seen time and again that – unless your name is Aroldis Chapman – relievers in the major leagues can be much more effective if they are not one-trick ponies. Mark Melancon is a testament to this thinking.

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For his part, Holdzkom is focused on the work. Recently our own Justin Frazee caught up with Holdzkom for a few moments after the rehab outing seen above. He was gracious enough to give us a few minutes of the time before he had to go off and throw a bullpen session. That extra work was due to his being so efficient that he did not hit the desired number of pitches the staff would have liked. Whether or not that is a good omen remains to be seen.

Here now is the audio of our chat with Holdzkom:

No one is expecting lightning to strike twice with Big John Holdzkom, but the Pittsburgh Pirates may still find a spark from his arm before 2015 is out.

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