Holliman Gets Head Start on Top Goal

Mark Holliman got an early start on the 2008 season by reporting to the Cubs' mini-Spring Training camp two weeks before the mandatory March 1 report date for all pitching prospects. The biggest thing the right-hander and 2005 third-round draft pick is looking to build on this season was actually one of his finer attributes a year ago.

Stamina did not seem like much of a problem for Mark Holliman in 2007.

The Mississippi alumnus logged 159 2/3 innings over 26 starts at Class AA Tennessee, an average of 6 1/3 innings per start.

Moreover, he logged more innings than any other Cubs pitching prospect.

It may seem a bit strange then that the 24-year-old Holliman would point to an increase in endurance as his biggest goal for the year ahead.

Then again, nobody knows his body more than Holliman, who says that as last season wore on, fatigue began to set in earlier and more often.

Holliman wants to avoid a repeat of that in 2008.

"I started out really hot and toward the end I kind of faded off," said Holliman, who finished 10-11 with a 3.57 ERA at Tennessee. "Even the year before in my first year of pro ball, I didn't know what to expect down in Daytona and I started wearing down toward the end of season. That (endurance) is my main focus this year."

It's also a reason why Holliman reported to Mesa, Ariz., earlier than most Cubs pitching prospects. At the club's mini-camp, he was afforded the opportunity to get some early bullpen work and the chance to face live hitters as part of full-squad workouts.

Holliman hopes that will help build arm strength and a stronger presence during the later innings of games. Meanwhile, he's also looking to gain a few pounds.

"It's more about arm strength, but ... I'm a little on the lighter side," said the 6-foot, 195-pound Holliman. "It's always tough during the regular season because you tend to lose so much weight as the year goes on and you're playing every day.

"So maintaining my weight is one of the things I'm trying to do."

A solid performance this spring could propel Holliman into a starting job at Triple-A once minor league rosters are finalized in the final week of March.

"That's what I'm hoping for," he said. "I guess it's still up in the air. You never know what's going to happen at the big league level and it's kind of a trickle effect from there."

Pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn, who guided Holliman a year ago, said last summer that he felt Holliman was ready for Triple-A.

But, Lewallyn said, Holliman has a tendency to get complacent in some of his starts.

"He will not throw as hard as he can right away until he gets in trouble," Lewallyn said. "We've talked about it and addressed it, and he's getting better at the [consistency]."

Holliman said he wasn't pacing himself in those starts.

"I'm just trying to find that happy median of being able to go out and locate my pitches with added velocity instead of taking awhile to get where I want," he said.

Still, Holliman wouldn't mind repeating some things from his overall performance a season ago.

Among them, he posted the second best ERA of any full-season minor league pitcher in the Cubs' system. He also threw a no-hitter – the first such event in the Cubs' farm system since April, 2005.

A complete overhaul is not in the works, nor is it necessary.

"For the most part, I'm just trying to stick with the same game plan: throwing strikes and letting them put the ball in play," said Holliman.

And just like last year, Holliman wants to get off on the right foot. He began the year with a 5-0 record and 0.44 ERA in his first six starts, making him a unanimous Southern League All-Star selection.

"It's always been really important for me," Holliman said of starting strong. "You kind of make a name for yourself and prove that you belong at that level in your career. It's always good to prove you deserve to be there and that they made the right choice."

Especially if that choice is one day Chicago.

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