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Collins looks to continue progress in the bullpen

HUDSON, Mass. -- Tim Collins and the Royals' bullpen will miss their former closer, Joakim Soria.

Just two years ago, when contending in Kansas City wasn't nearly as realistic as it should be in 2013, Soria wasn't exactly old. However, he was still one of the veteran voices on a franchise that was giving its kids a chance. Soria signed with the Rangers this offseason to set up for Joe Nathan.

"He tried to take all of us under his wing," Collins said. "Aside from him and Blake Wood, everyone had just under two years. Everybody was starting fresh. We were all rookies, so we kind of relied on him to show us the ropes, and he played a big part in everybody down there."

The closer's job is Greg Holland's now, and Collins -- a hard-thrower like Holland, but not to the same degree -- thinks that's how it should be. Holland averaged a 96.1 mph fastball in 2012, the 12th best mark for a Major League reliever, per FanGraphs. Collins was at 93.1 mph, 53rd best.

Any way you break it down, both had great numbers.

"Greg Holland has that under wraps," Collins said of closing. "It really goes to show the type of person that he is and when you start off, he had an 11 ERA, had an injury, came back three weeks later, he grinded, got his ERA down. To both see where he started and where he finished, it was unbelievable. To say that there's somebody that's going to come in and have it be up against him for the starting job is kind of out of the question. I think he kind of sealed up the job last year with the year he had."

Collins' 93 strikeouts in 2012 were the most by any left-handed reliever in the Majors, aside from Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman, who had an otherworldly 122. Collins threw 69 2/3 innings and went 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA.

The stuff has always been there, but the control wasn't. Well known is how much work Collins put in with then-new pitching coach Dave Eiland in Spring Training last season, and the result was a dramatically lowered walk number: he cut off two per nine innings, from 48 to 34. The strikeout numbers jumped hand-in-hand, by 33, in just four more appearances than the previous year.

"I cut out the windup," Collins said. "If you're trying to figure something out or do something, and you're trying to go back to basics, if you're trying to do it with a windup and the stretch, it's totally different timing. So when you're trying to simplify things, its easier just to work on one specific thing. And as a reliever, you're coming in most of the time and pitching out of the stretch.

"There were a lot of little things, as far as squaring my foot up on the rubber, not having such a tilt with my front arm, being more level and getting on top of the ball. I've struggled a lot up in the zone. So [I've been] getting back down in the zone and getting a bit more level."

Collins had dramatic splits between Kauffman Stadium and the road, with a nearly identical amount of appearances in each scenario. In 35 games at home, he finished with a 6.19 ERA. He made a combined 37 appearances everywhere else, with a 0.96 ERA.

Kauffman has played neutrally the last few years, so it's not some Coors Field effect magically replicated in KC. If there is any one reason, Collins doesn't see it.

"It just happens. There are times where I pitched really good in KC and then I struggle a little bit on the road," he said. "But I think just the scenery change, there's a lot of ballparks that I like -- not saying I don't like the Kansas City ballpark, great pitchers' ballpark -- but there's a lot more room for people to hit the ball. Not so much over the fence."

Collins was strong against hitters from both sides of the plate in 2012, perhaps even slightly better against right-handed hitters. That's an oddity for a southpaw.

Part of his walks problem in 2011 was related to facing lefties, and Collins corrected that this year.

"I was a little less confident, as far as pitching against lefties," Collins said. "I just felt a little bit more comfortable facing the righties, and moving myself over on the rubber, and doing some mechanical adjustments, made my stuff a lot better against lefties."

What's important for Collins heading into next season is that he knows, because of the full, consistent season he put together in 2012, Ned Yost can believe in him any time. Most 23-year-old relievers, most relievers entering their third year of service, can't say that.

"I showed spots of success throughout in [2011], and then I fall off and I'd have a lot of walks and I'd give up a lot of runs," Collins said. "Being good nine out of 10 times as opposed to being good five or six out of 10 times, it's a lot more confidence from the manager to put you in."

Tim Collins