Rockies still confident in struggling Holland

Rockies still confident in struggling Holland

KANSAS CITY -- For four months, Rockies manager Bud Black noted that the Rockies were contending for a National League playoff spot thanks in large part to closer Greg Holland. Now Holland's performance is being scrutinized as the team struggles.

Holland hung an 84.5-mph slider that Eric Hosmer crushed into the right-field seats with two outs in the ninth to swing a possible key Rockies victory into a 6-4 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.

This week's series marked Holland's return to Kauffman Stadium, where he helped the Royals reach the World Series in 2014 and 2015. The club won it in '15, but Holland needed Tommy John surgery and missed the postseason. But there are more pressing concerns than Holland's homecoming.

The Rockies have lost 11 of their last 15 games, having issues taking advantage of offensive opportunities in the process. But they'd be in better shape than in the second NL Wild Card spot, a half-game behind the D-backs, with better work of late from their closer.

Holland converted 34 of his first 35 save chances in the season, posting a 1.56 ERA.

Holland notches the save

But in his last six games, he has blown three of his four save chances -- as well as taken the loss in a game that was tied when he entered -- and given up 12 earned runs in his past five innings. Hosmer's walk-off was the third homer, and the ninth-inning leadoff walk to Alex Gordon was Holland's sixth during the slump.

For now, Black believes Holland will regain his form and put the Rockies back on a roll.

"We'll talk about it, but my initial instinct is to keep Greg where he is," Black said. "We wouldn't be where we are without him, and he's going through a bit of a tough stretch as far as making pitches.

"His arm feels good. He still has confidence. We've got to get him to the point where he's locating the slider, locating the fastball and getting that last out or making that last pitch to get the save. That's been the case the last three times when he's been one out away, one strike away, and just hasn't executed that pitch."

Until his recent struggles, Holland's slider dove and hitters swung over it. Holland threw strikes on 14 of his 23 pitches Wednesday -- a little better than the 56 percent during the first five games of his slump -- but isn't throwing with the quality of earlier in the year.

Gordon fought back from a 1-2 count against him for the walk. Whit Merrifield then lashed a ball that left fielder Raimel Tapia used his speed to nab; according to Statcast™, it was a three-star catch on a ball that had a 55 percent catch probability. Lorenzo Cain hit his flyout solidly as well, and Melky Cabrera saw a 2-1 fastball well enough to single to left before the homer.

"Sleep on it, wake up the next day and be ready to go do it again," Holland said. "That's part of it. The good ones keep their struggles to a minimum, so that time frame doesn't last as long.

"That's part of learning how to be a relief pitcher, coming back. Have the ability to get out there the very next day, or soon after that."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.