A year ago, Greg Holland was home in Asheville, N.C., an unsigned free agent, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, aware of the impressive success rate for Tommy John operations in recent years, but wondering if now that he was on the backside of 30 if he would get a legitimate chance to pitch again.
Holland went into Friday leading the Major Leagues with 28 saves, a Rockies franchise record for the All-Star Break, and having been selected to appear in the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard for the fourth time in his career.
The gamble he took on signing with the Rockies in part because of his relationship with pitching coach Steve Foster, who was the Royals bullpen coach during Holland's rookie year in the big league, has paid off for Holland. Holland is one of 141 pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery who have pitched in the big leagues this year, according to MLB Surgery List compiled by @MLBPlayerAnalys.
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Holland discussed his situation in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: How satisfying is it for you to be on the All-Star team this season?
Holland: It's definitely rewarding. I've been blessed with a family who supported me and kept me in the right mental state. I had a training staff throughout the process that was great, and then I signed with Colorado, which put me in a good spot. I try not to get too involved thinking about what I have done. I try to stay in the moment, feeling all of this is something I can look back on later in life and appreciate more.
MLB.com: Are you reaching goals you had in mind?
Holland: You don't want to say, "I want to do this and that." I just want to be healthy and help my team win, get back to where I know I can be. I'm really blessed to not just be healthy, but to excel like I did in the past.
MLB.com: Were there times a year ago when you wondered if you would make it back?
Holland: There is a little b it of anxiety any time you have a procedure done, whether you are playing baseball for a living or working a desk job. Getting knocked out and waking up is nerve-wracking. But I knew I had to get it done. So, I was a little apprehensive at first, but as soon as the surgery was over it was more about the routine, sticking to it, figuring out what I need to do each day to get better.
MLB.com: It has become common for players to return from Tommy John surgery, although the rehab is at least a year long. Did knowing that help you during the long rehab period?
Holland: Yes. It is part of the game now. A lot of guys throw at high velocity. I think that puts more stress on your arm. But modern technology is a beautiful thing. I am glad it is where it is, and I hope it gets better for future generations.
MLB.com: Even knowing things should be OK, sitting out a season, waiting to come back, did you get antsy at all?
Holland: The biggest thing was my support staff at home. It was huge for me with my wife and son, Nash. They kept me busy during those summer months when I am used to playing baseball but knew I couldn't. That was big for me.
MLB.com: Were there certain ex-teammates who gave you encouragement?
Holland: I talked to a bunch of people. I talked to Luke Hochevar quite a bit. He came back and had a phenomenal year out of the bullpen after his surgery. I talked to Jason Vargas, who has been unbelievable since he came back from surgery. Blake Wood. I'm forgetting some names. It was big for me, knowing what to expect. You go through highs and lows. Fortunately, I didn't have too many lows.
MLB.com: You said you had staff support, but before you signed with the Rockies you were a free agent. Did the Royals help you even though you weren't under contract?
Holland: Yes. [General manager] Dayton Moore called me into his office at the end of the 2015 season and told me, "We're going to have to non-tender you, but you can stay here as long as you need in the off-season." I felt like that was something I wanted to do because it was the only training staff I had known in professional baseball.
Nick Kenney, Jeff Blum, Kyle Turner [from the Royals training staff] helped me after the surgery until the middle of January, which I thought was key because they knew what problems I had in the past. They knew where my arm was and they knew me as a person, so I feel like that gave me an edge as far as the communication. They knew me, and they knew what to anticipate in the comeback.
MLB.com: Was there serious interest in you on the free-agent market last offseason?
Holland: There was quite a bit.
MLB.com: Why did you decide on the Rockies?
Holland: I felt it was a good fit. I thought we had a great team with a chance to complete. I felt good after talking to Buddy [Black, manager] and Jeff Bridich [general manager]. And knowing [bullpen coach] Darren Holmes and [pitching coach] Steve Foster I thought was a good thing. Steve was my bullpen coach in Kansas City my rookie season, and Darren lives in Asheville, so we spent some time together.
The biggest thing was their attitude that the organization had of, "We know what you can do when you are healthy, and we are going to take care of you. Need a day off? You get it, no questions asked. We are not going to rush you. We have depth in the bullpen. The main thing is keeping you healthy for September and October." I felt really comfortable with that.
MLB.com: You mention having worked with Foster when you were a rookie. Was that especially big?
Holland: Yes. He helped me a lot when I was a kid, stepping on the mound and just throwing BP right out of the chute. He reinforced the thought process of getting your body in a good spot. He'd talk about delivering some pitches, getting my arm loose, but don't waste bullets in the bullpen. That was a big thing he taught me. He helped me slow the game down. As a young player that's probably the biggest issue. You have to be able to do that when something bad happens. Being able to do that is what takes a player to the next level.
MLB.com: Any concern when you started throwing for teams in hopes of getting a contract and you would hear talk about a lack of velocity?
Holland: No. I think most people that know the game know that 12 months out of surgery I just wanted to show I was healthy and could command the strike zone. If it had been a big thing for me to go out and light up the radar gun I'd have done it, but I executed. I threw the ball really well. I was pleased with myself. I got the adrenaline going but I stayed composed and stayed within my delivery. I was more worried about showing my ability to pitch and repeating my delivery as opposed to seeing how hard I could throw it. That was a win for me. The people that were reporting about my velocity didn't understand what was going on.