"Hello ... Here's your hat ... What's your hurry," right?
The time Holdzkom did spend with the Astros was nonetheless valuable, he says, including the chance to pitch in front of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
Holdzkom joined the Cubs around this time last year from the Florida Marlins via a trade. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the club in 2001 that underwent Tommy John Surgery and would miss the entire 2004 season.
Despite last year being the first season in which Holdzkom was fully recovered from the operation, he only appeared in 25 games thanks in large part to a jammed shoulder that was suffered in late April. He spent the bulk of his time at Double-A West Tennessee, where he struck out 27 and walked 10 in 32 1/3 innings for a 1.95 ERA.
Because of the limited amount of innings brought on by the shoulder injury, Holdzkom went to work in the Arizona Fall League at seasons end. There he pitched in 13 games and averaged just over strikeout per inning (21 in 20.1 innings combined) before being selected in the Rule Five Draft in December.
Now that he's back at Cubs camp in Minor League Spring Training, we caught up with Holdzkom and asked him these questions.
How would you describe Big League camp with the Astros?
It was just like a normal Spring Training. I wouldn't say it's more fun than minor league camp, but it's easier as far as the leniency and what you can do. Plus, you get money every Friday. Other than that, no difference.
Leniency and all, how much did the Houston coaches work with you in camp?
The only thing I noticed is when you go to major league Spring Training, they don't really tell you what they want you to work on. It's almost as if they think you should already know what to do. They didn't really say anything as far as wanting me to work on this or that; just small facets of the game. I wasn't there long enough to really take anything in.
Are you excited to be back with the Cubs?
I had the option to opt for free agency, but the Cubs are a cool team. I've had no problems with them and like being here, so why not come back? I like the coaching staff and the players, especially my manager last year, Pat Listach. So even if I go [back] to Double-A, I have no problem with that.
What were you working on in camp with the Astros?
In Spring Training, you want to get your kinks out, get your pitches down and make sure you're 100 percent. All facets of the game I work on.
Any particular facet?
I'll just say all of them – whatever makes you a well-rounded player.
Did there come a point when you thought you'd be returned to the Cubs, or did you always maintain the belief that you'd stay with Houston in a major league setting for the whole year?
I know that as a Rule Five guy, you always have a shot either way. It's just like anything else, though: you have to perform well in order to make the team. I also know they had signed a few veteran guys that I could tell had a leg up on me. They simply had big league time and I didn't. When they told me I was going back to the Cubs, I wasn't really disappointed. They (Houston) were very classy about it and the best part about Astros camp was getting to meet Nolan Ryan. I got to play long-toss with him, so I'll always remember that. That was probably the highlight of the whole thing.
How did you come to meet Ryan?
It was at the Nolan Ryan Elite Pitching Camp (at Minute Maid Park) before Spring Training. There were a few major league guys there (for teaching) and many prospects. You basically just sit around and have meetings, but it was definitely great to be able to listen to Nolan Ryan talk about pitching. It was surreal playing catch with him. You kind of wonder what the hell you're doing there playing long-toss with him.
After your stint in the Arizona Fall League last year, how did you feel about your performance overall there?
In the Fall League, I started out real hot and then just kind of tapered off. I got tired just because it was my first full season back from Tommy John surgery, so toward the end I started to break down a little bit. It was nothing major, but my arm got tired. I struggled in the second half of the Fall League and it really showed in my numbers, but the Fall League is really more about getting extra innings in anyway.
How about your velocity in the first full year back from surgery? The reports we got had you in the low-to-mid 90s around 94.
Yeah, it's come back to that. It took awhile for it to, but it has and I really bounced back quickly as far as I can tell. I can throw back-to-back days and get ready and warmed up really quick. I see a lot of opportunities in the bullpen because it's usually what breaks down first at the next level, and teams need more help there.
How much did that jammed shoulder affect you last season?
It was serious and it definitely bothered me to where I couldn't compete at the level I wanted to for a while. The Cubs were cautious, which is good because they don't want you to get any more hurt than you already are; they want you to heal. It was their decision and that was fine.
There was a "story" out a few years ago about a purported wild side to you. Can you explain what happened and how it came about?
When I was a prospect with the Marlins, Baseball America had a piece about general things. They wrote something like: "His nipple rings and tattoos may lead scouts to believe ... whatever." I don't know why they printed it because it had nothing to do with baseball. I haven't had them pierced since 2003 and I take baseball very seriously. Besides, it was just a stupid phase when we were kids and some reporter saw it. A.J. Burnett also had his nipples pierced, so they made a comparison.