Holland key to Rockies' improved bullpen

Former Royals closer, lefty Dunn part of offseason relief unit makeover

Holland key to Rockies' improved bullpen

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rockies squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?

DENVER -- Greg Holland sprinted to the mound and celebrated with all his heart and one of his arms. Had his right arm not been in the brace -- a circumstance familiar to Tommy John elbow surgery patients -- Holland would likely have thrown the final pitch for the Royals as they defeated the Mets to win the 2015 World Series.

Still, Holland was a huge part of the championship, and he felt it, even if he had to undergo surgery almost a month earlier. Now Holland's goal is to be central in creating a similar scene with his new team, the Rockies. Holland signed a one-year deal that guarantees $7 million, but he could earn bonus money from appearances and games finished clauses, plus another year.

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"Maybe there was the tiniest hint of sour taste in my mouth, but I was so delighted because I got to see how those young guys progressed -- me, myself, included," Holland said. "The core group, we went from being really talented to developing winners and champions. Sure, I wanted to out there, but seeing it culminate like that overrode anything else."

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The Rockies hope they have filled a need by signing Holland and lefty Mike Dunn, who has a three-year, $19 million contract that includes a games-finished clause that could net him $1 million each year. But every bit as important as adding a two experienced, talented relievers, is the idea of developing the selfless attitude that Holland displayed when he jumped on the happy pile of Royals.

Holland on joining Rockies 'pen

Because Holland will have to show he has regained form and resiliency to pitch on consecutive days, or two-of-three and three-of-four, the Rockies can't stamp him as the closer yet. Dunn is also interested in pitching the ninth, and righties Adam Ottavino and Carlos Estevez, as well as lefty Jake McGee, were closers last year.

Whether the closer is the two-time All-Star Holland or someone else, that's just one inning.

The Rockies need a selfless parade of late-inning relievers to replicate what the Royals had on their championship squad. Holland was part of a Kansas City bullpen that included Wade Davis, who took over as closer for the stretch run, and Kelvin Herrera in the imposing group known as "HDH." Each threw his inning as if it was the ninth.

Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster broke into the Majors as right-handed reliever in 1991 with the Reds, who were coming off a World Series win behind "Nasty Boys" Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers at the end of a strong bullpen. Foster was the Royals' bullpen coach 2010-12 when "HDH" was developing, and he sees the same possibilities for the Rockies.

"For me, a bullpen is great when they simply take on a 'we' attitude and not a 'me' attitude," said Foster. "And it's all about finishing games. We got it done or we didn't get it done."

Dunn on why he joined Rockies

Dunn doesn't mind being in a competition.

"I'm going to go into Spring Training and give it everything I've got, and where they see me fit, that's where I'll be," Dunn said. "Do I want it? Yeah. But so does everybody else in the bullpen, which is a good thing. Internal competition is great."

Whatever happens, new manager Bud Black, who says he is "conventional," is likely to develop set roles, rather than a closer-by-committee system. In seven-plus seasons managing the Padres, just once did a second closer have more than nine saves. That was in 2014, when primary closer Huston Street was traded to the Angels after compiling 24 saves. Joaquin Benoit took over and recorded 11 saves.

To make this work, the Rockies need the right guys. Throughout his career, Ottavino has carried an all-innings-are-important mantra, and Estevez also speaks that language. McGee has experience with bullpens with fluid roles from his tenure with the Rays. Foster believes the two free agents have the same attitude, even if they have financial incentives to want the ninth.

"[Rockies general manager] Jeff Bridich is a tremendous student; he finds out about guys' character, and the fact there is no selfishness," Foster said. "He was able to get background on Greg Holland through me. He was able to get background on Mike Dunn through Mike Redmond [the bullpen coach, who managed Dunn with the Marlins].

"Incentives are a part of an internal competition within an athlete to help him and drive him. But it doesn't trump the 'we' attitude, ever."

Rockies pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Feb. 14, and the first full squad workout will be held on Feb. 20.

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.