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Lefties Holland, Erlin out to earn Bucs role

Pitchers and catchers report on time; first workout set for Wednesday
@adamdberry
February 11, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It only takes a quick scan of the Pirates’ 40-man roster to realize they’re a little short on left-handed pitchers. They only have two, in fact: starter Steven Brault and reliever Sam Howard. But their lack of lefties could create an opportunity for others. On Jan. 31,

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It only takes a quick scan of the Pirates’ 40-man roster to realize they’re a little short on left-handed pitchers. They only have two, in fact: starter Steven Brault and reliever Sam Howard. But their lack of lefties could create an opportunity for others.

On Jan. 31, Pittsburgh signed a pair of more experienced left-handers -- Derek Holland and Robbie Erlin -- to Minor League contracts with invitations to big league Spring Training. Half of the 12 non-roster pitchers in Pirates camp are southpaws, as the Bucs also added lefties Miguel Del Pozo, Williams Jerez, Nik Turley and Blake Weiman to their Spring Training roster, as well.

For Holland and Erlin especially, there is a clear path to the Opening Day roster. Holland will have a chance to crack the rotation or serve as a reliever, while Erlin will more likely look to claim a spot in the bullpen. Both made it clear as they reported to Pirate City that they appreciate the opportunity in front of them.

“Going into the offseason, I thought for sure I was going to be a reliever,” Holland said. “To have that opportunity to possibly get to start, I’m going to try to do the best I can with it. If that doesn’t work out for me, I’m going to look at the bullpen as the next chapter in my career, too.”

Holland seems likely to compete with Brault and right-hander Chad Kuhl for the final spot in a rotation that should also include right-handers Joe Musgrove, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller. The bullpen competition seems to be a wide-open race featuring several out-of-options arms along with intriguing non-roster options like veteran Tom Koehler.

The chance to start was one reason Holland finally signed with the Pirates after multiple conversations between his agent and the previous front office regime. The location has always appealed to the 33-year-old native of Newark, Ohio, which is about 2 1/2 hours away from PNC Park.

“It’s finally happened, that’s the best way you can put it. I’m excited to be here and be a part of this organization,” Holland said. “I know the fanbase is very passionate. I love that. It’s a very historic team, too, so you’ve got to love that as well.”

When Holland made his way into the Pirate City clubhouse, he found his nameplate and moved it a few spots down one row of lockers to put himself next to a familiar face: Chris Stratton, a former Giants teammate. Stratton was there in 2018 to see Holland pitch well in San Francisco’s rotation, posting a 3.57 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 36 appearances (30 starts). But last year was a step back for the longtime Rangers lefty, as he recorded a 6.08 ERA in 51 appearances (eight starts) for the Giants and Cubs.

Holland said he became too predictable in his pitch sequencing last year, leaning too heavily on his fastball, which led to his struggles against right-handed hitters. The affable veteran also joked that, when working on his command, “The big thing is just don’t miss down the middle of the plate.” He said he hopes to redeem himself this season.

“I felt like last year wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to go, obviously, numbers-wise,” Holland said. “I had to make some adjustments and bounce back and forth between the ‘pen and starting a little bit. I feel like I’ve got to just get myself back together.”

Erlin, meanwhile, finds himself in a more familiar position of having to prove himself in Spring Training -- something he said he’s had to do his entire career. The 29-year-old, who pitched in 106 games for the Padres from 2013-19, said the Pirates expressed more interest than any other team and backed up that interest with deep research into his style of pitching.

“Just like, ‘Hey, this is what we see and this is what we like.’ The fact that they went the extra steps and were open to that conversation, it was like, ‘Oh, cool, that’s genuine interest,’” Erlin said. “It just seemed like a good fit. … It sounded like they had kind of dug in and done a lot of research on how I pitch. I just really liked that they did that and expressed how much interest.

“Being here for a few days, it feels like everyone’s awesome. Great clubhouse, great guys. Very excited for it.”

Around the horn

• All of the Pirates’ pitchers and catchers reported on time, and a large group of early arriving position players occupied one side of the clubhouse on Tuesday. Pitchers and catchers took their Spring Training physical examinations on Tuesday morning in advance of Wednesday’s first workout.

• Position players are not required to report to Pirate City until Sunday, a day before the first full-squad workout. Among the hitters who have already reported are Will Craig, Jake Elmore, Phillip Evans, Erik Gonzalez, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, Guillermo Heredia, Kevin Kramer, Jason Martin and Jared Oliva.

• The Pirates are scheduled to begin their first workout on Wednesday around 10:30 a.m. ET. The pitchers will be divided into three groups, with one scheduled to throw bullpen sessions on Wednesday morning. That group includes starters Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller, as well as relievers Michael Feliz and Keone Kela.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.