'Savage' Holderman is immaculate against Rays

May 4th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- When entered the Pirates’ clubhouse on Thursday afternoon, one of the four televisions was playing a replay of Wednesday night’s 8-1 loss. Holderman looked behind the television, found the HDMI cord and disconnected it from the monitor, leaving one of the four televisions blank. He didn’t want to revisit what was, for several reasons, a frustrating loss. Later, on the mound, Holderman provided a highlight that he wouldn’t mind being replayed.

Holderman became the first pitcher this season to toss an immaculate inning in the Pirates’ 3-2 loss against the Rays at Tropicana Field, needing just nine pitches to strike out Taylor Walls, Luke Raley and Christian Bethancourt in the seventh. In the words of manager Derek Shelton, Holderman’s performance was “dominating.”

“It was really impressive,” Shelton said. “He came in and obviously threw strikes. The stuff was really good, but you don’t see [immaculate innings] very often.”

Holderman is the fourth Pirate to throw an immaculate inning, the first since Juan Nicasio achieved the feat against the Cardinals on July 4, 2016. Along with Holderman and Nicasio, Ross Ohlendorf threw an immaculate inning on Sept. 5, 2009, while Jeff Robinson was the first Pirate to do so on Sept. 7, 1987.

The Pirates typically save Holderman for high-leverage, late-game situations, but since he hadn’t pitched since April 29, Shelton elected to get his right-hander some work. By the time Holderman jogged out to make his first appearance, Pittsburgh had already dropped the first two games of the series and was trailing Thursday by two runs. Holderman is arguably the most mellow Pirate off the field, but on it, he pitches with fire. On this day, that fire ran white hot.

“I’ll tell you what, I was pretty mad going into it,” Holderman said. “Just honed that energy to the plate. I don’t like losing. So I was a little pent up when I went out there.”

“The guy’s a savage,” pitching coach Oscar Marin said in April. “It doesn’t matter who’s up there. Lefty, righty matchup, I think you guys see it: It doesn’t matter. That’s part of having a good bullpen guy, is the mentality behind what he’s doing. I think that’s the word I would describe him as: He’s a savage.”

Holderman began his afternoon by flashing every pitch in his bag to Walls: the sinker, the cutter and the sweeper. Walls fouled off Holderman’s first-pitch cutter and second-pitch sinker, but Holderman ended the plate appearance by freezing Walls with a perfectly placed sweeper at the bottom of the zone.

Against Raley and Bethancourt, Holderman relied exclusively on his cutter and sweeper, the two pitches that he added to his arsenal in the offseason. Holderman punched out the left-handed Raley swinging on a sweeper at the bottom of the zone that fell off the table, then got the right-handed Bethancourt swinging on another sweeper that darted to the outside edge.

“Every time I grab the ball, I have the ultimate confidence in myself, no matter who the hitter is,” Holderman said. “The game is me against myself when I’m out there. That’s just how I take every day.”