John Holdzkom Quickly Earns Clint Hurdle’s Trust in the Late Innings

It’s no coincidence that Clint Hurdle has put tremendous faith in John Holdzkom after only pitching 27.2 innings in the Pirates’ minor leagues.

Hurdle trusts the reports he gets from the Indianapolis Indians’ manager, Dean Treanor, and pitching coach, Tom Filer, and their word was enough for Hurdle to throw Holdzkom quickly into the mix.

“Going in, I was looking for things from Holdzkom based on the reports I’ve gotten from Dean and from Tom,” Hurdle said. “I wanted to see him off the mound once to get him some footing maybe, and then push him, see where he can go.”

And push him he has. The 6′ 9″ reliever has pitched four, one inning outings since his call-up. Holdzkom has pitched the 7th inning, 8th inning, 9th inning, and the 11th inning, earning the save. He’s responded well, surrendering zero runs, giving up a sole hit, and striking out seven.

“His confidence level is good. There is something in every player that once you get up here and you can do something well, even if it’s just once, it’s like ‘ok’,” Hurdle said.

Holdzkom has rode his 95 MPH fastball, which he’s throw 88.9% of the time, and his 85 MPH palmball changeup, which he’s thrown 11.1%, to have success. He’s used his eyes well, too.

“He’s ingratiated into the bullpen well,” Hurdle said. “He’s used his eyes well, watching Watson get ready, watch Wilson, watching Hughes, watching Melancon, the backend guys prepare.”

Holdzkom being able to step into the backend of the bullpen immediately and succeed has been instrumental in the Pirates’ bullpen regaining their top form recently. Over the last seven games, Pirates relievers have combined to allow two earned runs in 21.1 innings of work. Hurdle has struggled to find another backend reliever to supplement Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, and it looks like he might have found his guy in Holdzkom.

“This time of year, you’d like to have five [good relievers]. We’ve had four. I believe we’ve got five. We might even have six. The more you’ve got out there the better you are,” Hurdle said.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    September 13, 2014 1:32 am

    This is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I still expect to see some bumps along the way because nobody is perfect, but Holdzkom has already made important contributions to this year’s Pirates pennant race. Nobody can take that away from him. It’s real and it’s written down in history now.

  • Holdzkom is a great story – almost like something out of the movie “The Natural” and I certainly hope he is more than just a flash in the pan. And, in his limited work so far, he has been impressive.

    But as far as him earning Hurdle’s trust….I think that may be a stretch. Afterall, Hurlde kept trotting Frieri and Pimentel out there in high leverage situations, despite the fact that neither did anything to earn the trust to have those opportunities.

    • Frieri only pitched 10 2/3 innings for the Bucs in a little over a month. That is not showing much trust. Pimentel was used very sporatically this year. Not showing much trust. I think we got very lucky to find Mr. Holdzkom. Lucky to be seen by our scout. Lucky that his pitching coach only changed his grip this year and appears that changed his control. Looks like the other big issue with his attitude has changed with his age. Maybe we have found a new late inning guy. Would be sweet.

      • Regardless of how long he was with the team, Hurdle trusted him enough to put him in games that were close or tied, even though he did nothing before or after the trade to earn that.

  • Taking nothing away from Holdzkom, but I wonder what Axford has to do to get some mound time around here. Last night’s game was the perfect opportunity to get him in the game, but instead Clint went to Hughes for the 5th time in a week. Having watched each of his Pirate appearances, there certainly doesn’t seem to have been anything alarming in Ax’s approach or execution to warrant being in the dog house (particularly since Wilson still gets the call regularly despite his clockwork tendency to have a bad outing every 4 appearances). Has anyone heard anything about this?

    • Thinking Clint remembers all too well how bad the Bucs have tortured Axford over the years. Maybe afraid others will do the same to us. Has looked ok since joining the team but not overwhelming. Maybe Clint likes Holdzkom better because no book on him yet and can put up better results at least in the short term. other than that, who knows?

      • Good points. Another consideration could be that Ax will be a FA after the season. He signed for $4.5 mil for this season with Cleveland, and, as a former Closer, NH probably thought he was worthy of a waiver claim on a “let’s take a shot” basis. CH will pitch whoever succeeds, but he also will favor a guy the Pirates will have for the long-term. If equal, or in the favor of the long term guy, it is a no-brainer.

    • Monsoon Harvard
      September 13, 2014 1:46 am

      I agree, Clint does need to give Hughes a break from pressure situations and let him work out his troubles in lower pressure outings.

      Axford is seeming to me to be getting more and more time as he builds his confidence level up. As long as he keeps throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters to set them up for his good curve ball, he’ll get in more tough situations.

      I think Holdzkom is just going to be pitching 6th & 7th innings until he convinces everybody he can do more, because that is what the Pirates really need right now. I don’t think they will put him in as much pressure situations as Axford in the long run.

    • Could be in pitcher types. When Axford struggles its with control, which can lead to both walks and balls being left dead center. With Hughes, its the big time groundball stuff that is tough to elevate even if missing a spot. Hurdle tends to lean on the guys that have performed well throughout the year once September comes, so he may have been leaning on Hughes until Hughes had a few rough outings (which he did). Axford got the ball in the 9th tonight, showing confidence in him. Ax didnt respond great, so that doesnt bode well.

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