Biomechanics specialist Holmes steps in for Rockies

New bullpen coach ready to assist on technical side in Colorado

Biomechanics specialist Holmes steps in for Rockies

DENVER -- New Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes understands the toughness it takes to pitch in Denver. He went through the successes and struggles at Mile High Stadium and at Coors Field in the early days of the franchise. Holmes can also put the brawn aside and get technical.

Holmes, 48, hired this week along with new pitching coach Steve Foster, came to the Rockies after spending last season as the Braves' biomechanics pitching consultant. After retiring from a 13-year Major league career as a right-handed reliever, Holmes took an academic approach to the game, gaining certifications in various physical, dietary and psychological concentrations, mostly through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

The hope is Holmes can help the Rockies' bullpen, which finished in the bottom two in the Majors last year in ERA, develop the willpower and brain power to improve. The relievers will be learning from a man who has struggled -- posting a 6.35 ERA in 1994 and a 5.34 ERA in '97 -- and thrived to the tune of 25 saves in '93 and a 3.24 ERA in '95, the team's first year at Coors Field.

"You've got to build a mentality within yourself that says Coors Field -- for a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies -- is one of the best home-field advantages," Holmes said. "What I'm talking about is the pitchers that come in here, they may not have the game plan and sight change -- doing some different stuff, different views with their pitches. Well, we do.

"You look at [Rockies left-hander Rex] Brothers two years ago. He had a [1.74] ERA. Success can be there. There are a lot of guys. I was there the night [Hideo] Nomo threw a no-hitter against us. So Coors Field doesn't eliminate success. Coors Field eliminates the weak. It's our job to try to instill that confidence, to try to let them know, hit them with some game plans."

Holmes had pitched for the Dodgers and the Brewers, and he posted a 2.55 ERA for Milwaukee in 1992 before Colorado took him in the Expansion Draft. It was an education.

Holmes had actually pitched in Denver for Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. But joining the new Rockies added an element of pressure.

"I struggled so bad when I first got to Colorado that my ERA was on the front page of USA Today -- it was like 120 or something," Holmes said. "I couldn't get anybody out. The reason being, for me, is that I came here as a closer and felt like I was supposed to be Lee Smith. I was 25 years old and felt pressure like I had never felt."

Holmes found himself by making adjustments. He adjusted his release point on the curveball much lower, actually aiming for home plate or in front of the plate if he wanted the hitter to chase the pitch. Holmes also learned that walks carried a greater price in Denver than other places. He preferred to give up a home run on a 3-1 pitch than a walk, which could have led to additional trouble. And he craved the challenge.

"You've got to be the guy in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning that wants to be in that ballgame," Holmes said.

Holmes' knowledge of how biomechanics can help with effectiveness and injury prevention also could be a plus.

After retirement, Holmes and John Smoltz, a former teammate of his with the Braves, were co-owners and co-founders of Acceleration Sports Institute, a business that trains athletes. Holmes helped invent the Speedflex training machine and helped put together a training method based on it. He also earned certifications as a personal trainer, performance enhancement specialist, youth exercise specialist, life coach and fitness nutrition specialist.

Conversations with baseball scouts led to his job with the Braves last season. Holmes watched pitchers for various flaws in their delivery, and he communicated with strength and conditioning coaches on corrective programs. The knowledge could make him a valued voice for the Rockies, who dealt with a heavy injury burden last year (although some of the injuries, such as two pitchers breaking their non-pitching hands, would have been hard to prevent).

While Holmes and Foster are still hammering out the day-to-day duties, which would be focused on winning each particular game, Holmes said it's possible his knowledge could help head off problems.

"If you have a guy who was throwing 96 and all of the sudden he's throwing 91, and he says his arm feels good and he doesn't feel pain, but all of a sudden his velocity drops, there is a reason for that," Holmes said. "Sometimes your biomechanics can get off, and I have an eye for that. That's something I can relay to Steve, and then we can meet with the strength coach and figure out a game plan to combat that."

Holmes wanted to become a big league pitching coach, but he had no idea he would move toward that path so quickly. Then Rockies manager Walt Weiss, a teammate with Colorado from 1994-97, gave him a call.

"There were always times when I was on the mound when Walt would come up and say something funny or give you that look like, 'Come on let's get doing, dig in,'" Holmes said. "He had that leadership quality.

"Walt is is one of my top five best friends that I have ever had in my life. And I'll be honest, the job that I'm leaving is a really neat job."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.