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Holdzkom brings unknown quality to Pirates' 'pen

Tall righty began year in independent league; earns high praise for cutter

PITTSBURGH -- John Holdzkom looked around the Pirates' clubhouse overrun by media in town to cover Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) and had to smile.

"This is a typical crowd in Amarillo," said the reliever who a little more than three months ago was pitching independent ball in that Texas city.

Wednesday night, Holdzkom will be in the PNC Park bullpen for a postseason Major League game.

The ultimate definition of an "X factor," the 6-foot-7 right-hander is unfamiliar to opponents, and his downhill stuff -- cutter, splitter and palmball -- could be a valuable weapon. Of all the Pirates' possible playoff foes, depending on how deep they play, the only team that has seen Holdzkom is the Cardinals, against whom he made his big league debut on Sept. 2 by striking out the side.

The Washington Nationals scout who tracked the Bucs during the last week of the season, gathering intel for a possible NL Division Series meeting, was certainly impressed.

"That big guy," the scout said, not even yet sure of his name, "whew! The movement on that cutter … he's Mariano Rivera, five inches taller and five more [mph] on the pitch."

And this wasn't just any armchair scout, but Bob Boone, the former catching great who knows a few things about pitchers and pitches.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
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