BRADENTON, Fla. – After a magical run in 2014 that took John Holdzkom from Independent Leagues to a late inning big league reliever, the tall right-hander came into the 2015 season with high hopes. However, the control issues that haunted his early career returned, and he found himself on and off the DL with a shoulder issue all season.
On Friday, Holdzkom found himself as one of a handful of Pirates cut from the Major League roster.
According to Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington, they have seen Holdzkom’s fastball in the 89-91 MPH range, which is significantly down from the 97 range when he had success in the 2014 campaign and was nearly unhittable. Huntington also pointed out that the movement just was not there either, a huge key to Holdzkom’s success.
“[Holdzkom is] in an interesting situation,” Huntington said. “The ball just isn’t coming out of his hand the way it has in the past, especially his last couple of outings. He’s telling us that it’s just not coming out.”
Much of what Huntington was describing sounded like what Holdzkom was dealing with in Indianapolis last season. He had lost the zip on the fastball and had next to no movement early in the season before going on the DL in May. He returned in June and had the look that he was rebuilding what he saw in the 2014 campaign, but had only a few appearances with that stuff before losing velocity and going back on the DL for the remainder of the year.
Part of the decision to cut Holdzkom was due to a concern that he may still be dealing with complications from the shoulder. Huntington made it clear that they don’t know if Holdzkom is injured, but tomorrow is an important deadline to send players down and avoid them going on the big league disabled list. The history and the concern with Holdzkom led to this decision.
“There’s an odd rule that today is the last day you can option a player that is injured that doesn’t have Major League service the year prior,” Huntington said. “We’re not saying he’s injured, but based on what we’ve seen so far in camp, he doesn’t make the club, and that rule does come into play as we option him out today.”
Now the task for the Pirates organization is determining why Holdzkom has lost the velocity and movement.
“The challenge is we go off of what we’ve been told,” Huntington said. “So far, it’s that it hasn’t felt right, and the ball’s not coming out, and we see that. It’s not 97, it’s 89-91 and it’s not a short cut, it’s more of a slider type action. Now our focus becomes finding out why isn’t the ball coming out the right way. Is there something underlying that we’re not being made aware of at this point in time, and most importantly, how do we get him healthy, and how do we get this guy back to what he was in 2014, and get him back to that guy that can help us? Because that guy can really help us. Unfortunately, the guy that we’ve seen so far this spring doesn’t help us.”
While comebacks have been part of the story of Holdzkom’s baseball career, he is simply not an option for the Pirates without the velocity and movement. If he ends up being injured, it is certainly a nagging ailment that is not going away quickly. Either way, the early promise in his Pirates career may soon be in jeopardy if it is not solved. While the concerns are there, Huntington did state the Pirates still view Holdzkom as a possible reliever that could contribute down the road.