SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Thursday marks 18 months to the day since Greg Holland underwent Tommy John surgery following the 2015 season. He missed all of 2016 and has yet to appear in a Cactus League game, but the All-Star closer, formerly of Kansas City, is right on track for Opening Day, according to both Holland and Rockies manager Bud Black.
"I feel healthy," Holland said Wednesday. "I think probably early next week [I'll get in a Cactus League game]. I've got one more [simulated] game scheduled for Friday."
Black likes what he's seen and has no qualms about putting Holland to work, but given the reliever's reputation as a tough competitor who doesn't have "idle" on his gear shift, Black liked the idea of starting him off with the same work in a less-charged atmosphere.
"He's a guy that will continue to compete, pitch, and do more," Black noted. "We have to scale him back a little in spring."
Holland threw just under 25 pitches in a sim game Tuesday, his second of the spring.
"His delivery looked good," Black said. "He came out of it fine. He's still building, which is what we want. March 1st, he's in a good spot. There's going to be a couple more of those types of games, just to continue to build arm strength.
"From a player's standpoint, especially a pitcher, your intensity level is such prior to pitchers and catchers, and then you put your pants on, you get in a baseball uniform, you're throwing under a real structured environment of a pitcher-catcher week. Intensity picks up a little bit. And then you throw some live batting practices. The intensity picks up. A lot of guys, when you pitch in a Cactus League game, the intensity picks way up, because you're competing. ... So that jump in intensity is pretty big from your work prior to games and then game, that's a big jump. With Greg, we didn't want him to make that huge of an intensity jump. So we're gradually increasing his intensity based on these simulated games. It's a process."
Though Holland is the only pitcher on the projected 40-man roster who has not seen Cactus League action yet, Black emphasized that he's not "behind" the other pitchers and remains among the frontrunners for the closer's role.
"'Behind,' for me, is when you actually don't play," Black said. "You don't get your at-bats. You miss games. From a pitcher's perspective, you miss [side sessions]. You miss time on the mound. And he's not doing that.
"He's building arm strength, he's throwing all his pitches. The only thing he's missing the first two weeks is maybe two or three games in a Cactus League game. If everything maps out like we expect, he'll still get plenty of games to be ready for April."
Holland recognizes that his tenacity adds an element to his game, and he understands the team's desire to pace his intensity rollout. But he has no intention of dialing back what made him the top reliever in the American League in 2014, or his Royals franchise record 47 saves the year before.
"Any time you're pitching out of the bullpen, you got to be mentally tough," Holland said. "You have a lot of outings and you're going to have some that aren't good. You're going to see all kinds of situations that aren't ideal, either. You've got to be able to manage those. That's what I try to do. Stay in the moment."