With 2 new pitches, Holderman out to pump gas for Pirates

March 19th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- There are plenty of people throughout the Pirates’ organization who are excited to witness ’s sophomore season. is right at the top, if not at the very top, of that list.

“In talking to him, there’s a lot of guys with a lot of stuff, but not as many know what to do with it,” De Jong said before Pittsburgh's 8-0 loss to the Orioles on Sunday. “He’s smart. He understands himself. He knows what makes him good. And he’s a gamer. There’s a little bit of JUCO grinder in there, so we’re [kind of] kindred spirits -- kind of been through the ringer.

“He’s just a guy that has the right attitude, the right makeup, the right skill set. I think he could be really successful, and I’m really happy that he’s on my team.”

Holderman, who the Pirates acquired ahead of last year’s Trade Deadline from the Mets in exchange for Daniel Vogelbach, certainly made a positive first impression. Across 28 1/3 innings with New York and Pittsburgh, Holderman had a 3.81 ERA, 3.59 xERA and 3.32 FIP. Those numbers are even more impressive considering Holderman wasn’t fully healthy for much of last season.

The right-hander dealt with shoulder issues dating back to his time in Queens, and they didn’t go away when he arrived in Pittsburgh. Holderman grinded through the ailment for much of the summer, but things came to a head on Aug. 24, when he allowed five runs to Atlanta without recording an out and was removed from the game after 14 pitches. The outing, which raised his ERA by 1.59 points, ended up being his last of the season.

Now, healthy once again, Holderman has an opportunity to carve out a prominent role in Pittsburgh’s bullpen.

“You’re always nervous going into camp,” he said. “You never know how it’s going to go, but … I feel really confident in who I am and my identity as a pitcher. I’m really excited for the year and to show people what a healthy Colin Holderman can do.”

Among the things that a healthy Colin Holderman can do is pump gas. Last season, Holderman ranked in the 75th percentile for fastball velocity, averaging 96 mph on his sinker and 96.5 mph on his fastball. This spring, Holderman is averaging 97.5 mph on his sinker through six appearances (Statcast was not available for his March 8 outing vs. the Orioles). On March 2, Holderman’s spring debut, the right-hander’s four-seam fastball touched 99.9 mph, his hardest-thrown pitch on record.

Holderman’s velocity serves as just one component of the puzzle. This spring, he has added a cutter and sweeper to his repertoire to complement his sinker and occasional four-seam fastball. Technically, the cutter and sweeper aren’t completely new, but rather manifestations of Holderman’s slider.

Last season, Holderman threw two versions of his slider. One version acted more like a cutter. The other version acted more like a sweeper. Instead of having two semi-distinct sliders, Holderman, with some help from a visit to Driveline Baseball, tweaked his grips to create two separate offerings.

“I just took one of the sliders and went one way with it, and I took the other slider and went another way with it,” he said.

So far, Holderman’s cutter is averaging 91.5 mph while his sweeper is averaging 85.8 mph. As far as movement, his cutter is averaging 1.3 inches of horizontal movement, while the sweeper is averaging 6.7 inches of horizontal movement (Statcast currently classifies Holderman’s sweeper as a traditional slider, meaning the metrics on the pitch could look different when the classifications are adjusted).

“You throw it inside [a facility] during the offseason and it looks great on TrackMan and that tells you one thing,” Holderman said, “but the hitters are going to tell you what it’s really playing like. I really got some confidence in all three of my pitches right now, and we’re going to try to take that momentum into the regular season.”

“Velocity in and of itself is not going to get Major League hitters out,” added manager Derek Shelton, “but having multiple weapons and having the ability to rush it up there 98, 99 [mph] with action to it to put the ball on the ground, it’s been very impressive. It was one of those things -- we knew we had a big arm, it was just a matter of getting him healthy.”