Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman

Lone Star Dugout's Jason Cole recently sat down with Triple-A Round Rock pitching coach Brad Holman. In the interview, Holman discusses right-hander Josh Lindblom, who is slated to start for the Rangers on Monday, along with the early dominance of Neal Cotts and the struggles of RHPs Jake Brigham and Lisalverto Bonilla.

Brad Holman is currently serving his first year as pitching coach for the Triple-A Round Rock Express. The 45-year-old, who pitched in the big leagues for Seattle in 1993, has been a fast riser since joining the Rangers' organization prior to the 2009 season. Holman worked as pitching coach for Single-A Hickory between '09 and '10 before spending the last two years in the same role at High-A Myrtle Beach.

Jason Cole: After spending the last two years as a reliever for the Dodgers and Phillies, Josh Lindblom has transitioned into a starting role for you guys this season. What's your assessment of his performance thus far?

Brad Holman: I think the numbers obviously speak for themselves. But his approach to it has been tremendous just from the standpoint of embracing it and wanting to develop a routine. He bought into it wholeheartedly, and that has obviously showed in the outcome of his outings. Whereas when he got to start before, I think it was something that he didn't really get an opportunity to do on a ‘this is your role' basis.

Cole: Lindblom entered spring training as a reliever and competed for a spot in the Rangers' bullpen. When he opened the year at Triple-A, he did so as a starting pitcher. Although Lindblom did work as a starter in the lower minors for the Dodgers, all 101 of his previous major-league appearances have come out of the bullpen. What was behind the decision to start him?

Holman: I had the opportunity in spring training to work the bullpen on the major-league side during games. Watching Josh warm up before he entered the game was pretty impressive––his ability to command the baseball with a four-pitch mix. He would go into the game and wouldn't show the same command based on probably more effort level than anything.

I just mentioned it to (Rangers General Manager) Jon Daniels, regarding the fact that he showed exceptional command in the bullpen prior to going into the game with a four-pitch mix. I said that I think this is a guy that would transition into a starting role pretty easily. And it just kind of snowballed from there, and here we are.

Cole: Lindblom obviously hadn't worked as a starting pitcher full-time in a few years, but has pitched deep into some games for you guys in Round Rock, working up to eight innings on May 1. Has he been able to maintain his stuff deep into games?

Holman: Yeah, and that was all part of I think him just buying into the role from a standpoint of what goes on between outings––especially the work ethic and the time and effort that he is putting into the role. And yeah, definitely, he has maintained his stuff from the first inning until he comes out of the game. There hasn't been any decline.

Cole: Is the plan for Lindblom to be a full-time starter, or might he go back to the bullpen once––or if––the Rangers' rotation gets healthy once again?

Holman: I don't foresee him moving back into the bullpen, barring having some significant struggles. I think Josh is a pretty level-headed guy. He's not the type of guy that's going to fall into a funk and have any trouble getting out of it. I think he is a hard worker. He's hungry for information, and he has got the ability to take stuff and apply it. He's not afraid to try new things.

All of this combined is a formula for someone who's going to be able to bounce back when he has a bad outing. Obviously it's a need in the major leagues right now. And if they need an arm out of the bullpen and Josh is the best guy, then they might do that. But I would think that as good as he has been as a starter, you would hate to take that from him.

Cole: When Lindblom worked out of the bullpen the last two years, he typically worked 90-94 mph and relied heavily on his fastball-slider mix––as you mentioned earlier––but occasionally flashed the curveball and changeup. What has his stuff been like in the starting role?

Holman: The velocity ranges from 89 to 93 or 94 mph on the top side. He pitches around 92 and frequently hits 93. And again, that maintains through the course of the game. The secondary pitches––his slider is probably the number one. He uses it to both sides of the plate effectively, and it's a true slider. It's not a sweeping breaking ball. It is a short little biting slider.

The changeup is probably his second secondary pitch. With that, it has been a little bit of a work in progress. Not because he doesn't have a good one––he does––he just has a tendency to kind of come underneath his pitches some, including with the changeup. That's a pitch that has a looser grip, and it's easier to get underneath it. Josh has done a good job of combating that by creating downward angle. He has been able to get on top.

The curveball is probably his fourth pitch overall, but he spins it well, and it has nice shape. He just doesn't quite have the consistency of the release. He'll show a good one, and then he'll show one that is kind of erratic. I think he can spin it, and it's more of a time thing––once he gets innings and is able to use that more as a starter, I think it will become one of his better secondary pitches in the future.

Cotts has put himself back in the big-league discussion.
Cole: To say the Neal Cotts has put up video game-like numbers so far would probably be selling him short. Through 15 appearances, he has struck out 42 batters and walked only five in 23 innings. Fellow lefties are also 0-for-28 against him with a rather ridiculous 22 strikeouts. Through the course of his long big-league career, he has never been a big splits guy. In fact, Cotts has been slightly better against righties than lefties. So what's leading to the extreme success against left-handers right now?

Holman: I think there was a mechanical adjustment––we were in New Orleans when we made it. Neal was coming out, and I try to get the relievers on the mound every third day. He kept showing up early. I watched him this spring, and I noticed the erraticism of the release. He was having a tough time repeating his delivery.

We had a real long conversation in New Orleans and talked about the delivery and what I believed to be an essential timing mechanism in his delivery. It's a matter of synching his head with his throwing hand. He has always had that bent front knee. And by the time he landed, it was really forward and his arm was behind him and playing catch up. And he was erratic as a result.

We had that talk in New Orleans, and Neal started working on it. On his own, he has really transformed himself into a repeatable delivery. We haven't had a conversation since that time in New Orleans. He took it and ran with it. Being a veteran like he is, he's able to retain that information.

Cole: Is Cotts' stuff any different than it has been in the past, or is it just the delivery making everything work a little better?

Holman: I think it's both. I think as a result of the consistency of the delivery, the stuff starts to play better. I think when you get better with the release, you get more confidence in what you can do with your pitches. He throws a really good cutter that is really good with the lefties. It's really tough to square up and see out of his hand.

But he has also had success with the changeup and getting it to sink armside a bit, which he'd had trouble with in the past. He has been able to carry his hand further into the extension point in his delivery, and he's able to pronate his hand. That helps him get sinking action when he needs to. He's still working with it, and he is very easily coached.

Cole: Jake Brigham tossed 13.2 scoreless innings with Frisco before earning a promotion to Round Rock. After pitching well in his first two outings, he has scuffled his two most recent times out. Brigham's velocity has also been down this year, as he's working consistently 90-92 mph instead of the low-to-mid 90s that he has shown in the past. What are your thoughts on the current velocity decline?

Holman: Somewhere along the line, Jake has developed a little shorter arm swing––a little quick circle with his arm. I don't know where he implemented that or why. It's not horrible; it just has probably a little bit of a tendency to lose some of the capability he has got in terms of generating velocity. Where that velo goes is kind of anybody's guess.

I think over the course of anyone's career, they generally decline with velocity. And as a result, the guys that stick around are the ones that start picking up command a little bit more with a little less concern for velocity. I think that's the move for Jake. He's going to have to be a little more crafy and execute his pitches a little more. Effective wildness with a 95-96 mph fastball is useful. But when you're effectively wild at 90-92, it gets banged a little bit.

Cole: We've talked about Lindblom. Now I want to talk about the second piece in last offseason's Michael Young trade, reliever Lisalverto Bonilla. He has good stuff––including a knockout changeup––and he's missing bats this season, with 32 strikeouts in 22 innings. But he also has a 7.36 ERA to go along with that. What are your thoughts on where he stands developmentally right now?

Holman: Obviously he has got a tremendous arm. And like you said, he has got an exceptional changeup. Where he's concerned, what's lacking is the pitchability. He tends to want to gravitate towards the secondary stuff. When he uses his fastball, he doesn't want to pitch with it––he just kind of throws it at the zone.

I think the thing is getting him to pitch and use his fastball more––to have more of a plan. Pitching away and pitching soft can create more comfortable hitters––they can start leaning over the plate. With Bonilla, I think it's a matter of him doing some different things as opposed to doing what he is comfortable doing when he's good at it. I think it's about pitching outside the box with him a little bit. It's a work in progress, and I think you're just seeing the product of better hitters in a more hitter-friendly environment.

Cole: Miguel de los Santos isn't in the Rangers' organization anymore, but he was another guy who had a plus-plus changeup and often preferred it over his fastball. Velocity-wise, Bonilla has a solid fastball, but is that over-reliance on a dominant secondary pitch something you often see with young guys?

Holman: I think it's just a security blanket. They know that's always an option for them. But I just think as you get to the higher levels, you start to come to realizing that pitch––particularly the changeup––isn't that good if it's not coupled with a fastball. The fastball makes the changeup good and vice versa. I think he's going to have to learn to trust and pitch with his fastball, and that's going to make his changeup even more of a weapon. He's learning that kind of the hard way, but he is learning it.

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