Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman

WOODBRIDGE, Va. – The High-A Myrtle Beach pitching staff currently leads the Carolina League in both earned-run average (3.16) and strikeouts (1,033). Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with Pelicans' pitching coach Brad Holman to discuss some of the club's top arms.

Jason Cole: Tell me a little about Chad Bell and what has led to him pretty much making a complete improvement after a rough start.

Brad Holman: He has had a significant change, actually. He had a really high three-quarter arm slot––a very rigid approach to his pitching. What we have done was exaggerated––lowered him down. His arm has learned how to work. It's like if you skip a rock, so to speak.

As a result, what has happened is that his arm is freed up. It has learned how to work. And then gradually we moved it back up to where he still maintains that freedom from a high slot.

It's not near as high as it was, but the three-quarters slot has given him movement. And the fact that his arm works also creates action on the pitch. I think there's much more strikability from pitch to pitch. It has just kind of given him a new life. I think, honestly, from the time that the change was made, he has had success immediately ever since.

Cole: Was that starting with the 20-something inning game that you guys had? I know he pitched well in that game in an extended outing.

Holman: That's right. He had five scoreless innings in that game. I think it was just prior to that. There may have been one outing prior to that that he had. But it has been something that has been a good adjustment for him.

It still requires some constant maintenance. Every now and then, he'll get into a situation in the game where he'll get a hitter in there and every time he has an unsure feel, you see that rigidity come back in there a bit. He just needs a little slap every now and then. But he is running with it––he's doing well.

Cole: I noticed Ryan Kelly was mixing in a cutter during today's game. Can you tell me where that came from and what the thoughts were behind adding that pitch?

Holman: The cutter is something that he adopted early on––right out of spring training. It just gives him an option, as we have kind of approached with other guys, like Joe Wieland for instance. It's an option that gives him an easy strike option without having to just challenge a hitter behind in the count. He can throw it for a strike any time he wants. It's not very big––it's a real short, sharp pitch. It's a true cutter, where Wieland's is more of a slider.

With that, and then lately he has been doing a bit of adding and subtracting with his curveball. I think probably what is attributed to his success––and I have to give credit to (Myrtle Beach manager) Jason Wood because it's something that he noticed––was that everything he had was hard. And hitters didn't have a problem timing him. And now, he's backing off the curveball a little bit once in awhile. Now the timing of the hitter is definitely getting a little more disrupted. He has been good probably five or six outings in a row now.

Cole: You got to work with Johan Yan both last year and this season. I know he took to the sidearm thing pretty well from the start, but how far has he come in the last year? He's now up to 17 innings without an earned run allowed in Frisco.

Holman: Watching him pitch, you just don't see any violence in his delivery. It's a really smooth, effortless approach. But the ball, when it comes out of his hand, has some violence to it as it crosses the plate, with the sinking action that he gets and his ability to throw his slider over. He really hasn't even mastered the use of his changeup yet. I think, as that pitch comes along, he's only going to be even better.

I think it's just his ability to understand that his pitches get ground balls. And when he started just blatantly attacking the strike zone was when he started having a lot of success here in Myrtle Beach. He even got to the point where he would get frustrated with himself if he threw a ball to run a count 2-0 or 3-1 or whatever. He is really adamant about just getting contact early in the count now. As a result, he finds himself in a lot of put-away counts. He has got the pitches, when he needs to, to get a guy to swing and miss.

Cole: With the sidearm delivery, how much do Yan's long arms add to the deception?

Holman: I think it's a little bit––like we talked about with Bell––the looseness of the arm swing. And that looseness creates action on the pitch. So the length of his arm and the freedom of his hand––you see the arm work. And what I mean by that is that you see it break. You see the bend of the flex of the arm. As a result, his movement is accentuated. I think that he definitely has some long limbs, and also long fingers and really big hands. I think that the two in combination definitely help the action on his pitches.

Cole: What were your thoughts on Justin Grimm's outing today?

Holman: Right now, he is probably pitching a little bit outside the box according to his stuff. We're trying to advocate the use of secondary pitches while even or behind in the count situations. We want to get it to where he can learn to command those pitches and not feel the need to have to just challenge or give into a hitter just because he's behind in the count.

He is doing well with that. He is commanding his changeup and his curveball. Typically, since we kind of started doing this, he is a little slower starting than he is finishing. But as the outing progresses, he starts getting more and more comfortable with those secondary pitches for strikes.

But I think, in the future, you'll probably see a little more aggressive approach from him. But I'm very pleased with his outing. I think Justin is––I talked to you before about the aptitude of the kids. And he fits in that. He is a playful kid and you wouldn't think so. He is really able to take in information and apply it quickly. He is just growing quick.

Cole: How difficult is it to get a guy like Grimm to go out there and really focus on a third pitch when it might be out of their comfort zone?

Holman: I think it's just getting him to buy into the fact that we're trying to prepare them to pitch in the big leagues––not necessarily getting too concerned with their success in Low-A ball or High-A ball. And I think, and it's a tribute to him, that he gets that. He sees the big picture.

It's probably not easy because it's not just him that has to buy into it. It's also the catchers. So with Zaneski and DiFazio, they've also been on board in understanding that there may be some situations where he might walk a guy that he wouldn't have otherwise walked or what not. So it's just understanding from our side of things.

I think we'll graduate back into a more aggressive approach. Obviously he has got a good fastball. But with his outing tonight, I was pleased with it. He had one run over six innings––that's a quality outing. There are some things he needs to do a bit better––holding runners and controlling the running game. But he is definitely on a fast track, I think.

Cole: When I talked to Grimm in spring training, he said the biggest focus was on controlling the effort in his delivery. How has he done in terms of that this season?

Holman: Really, really well. He had a tendency––when he got here from Hickory, I know that he had worked on some things––but what I saw from him was that at the top of his balance point, he wanted to attack the pitch. What that created was like a bob or a hop in his delivery. You could literally see his head popping up and down.

So what we've done is transitioned into basically another stage of the delivery. Instead of going or attacking from a balance point, it's learning to balance, prepare, and then throw. What that does is that it creates the head going backwards and more of an arc into the pitch––so he doesn't have that up-and-down factor. I think he's doing really, really well with it. He still––for the first couple outings after we implemented it, it still showed up. But it's pretty consistent now.

Cole: What's the status on Barret Loux right now? I know he was shut down for the time being. Is it just an innings thing?

Holman: Yeah, innings and just fatigue. There's nothing injured––just the idea that it's better to err on the side of caution. He is showing a little fatigue and not as consistent. We just want to give him the time he needs to get refreshed, so to speak. He's at 110 innings in his first full season, so that is pretty good for a guy right out of the gate.

Cole: In terms of adjusting to throwing on this schedule and every five days, how difficult it is for guys like Grimm and Loux who are just out of college and pitched once every seven days?

Holman: I think it's probably more of a routine than what they're used to. So I think the arm actually responds to it better. But it's not just the throwing every five days. It's also an every day throwing program, where they're basically throwing a side in between that and on the second day, they're long tossing. So the arm is constantly working.

I think the adjustment is probably an easier adjustment. But the long haul––over the course of the length of the season––I think it tends to zap them a little bit more. But as far as the strength of the arm, I think it's beneficial.

Cole: The last guy I want to ask you about is Miguel de los Santos. First off, can you just describe his changeup? It's a really unique pitch.

Holman: Yeah, it's a circle changeup and he gets a lot of back-and-forth off his fastball. It's a pitch that he has been throwing for a long time. He had it last year when I had him in Hickory. It has always been good. I think the big issue with him is kind of the opposite of what Grimm's was––it was getting him to be more aggressive with his fastball.

But with the changeup, I think if I was to describe it, it looks like it stops in mid-air. It really does. It almost has like a string-attached-to-it action, and you see some really funny swings from hitters. It's a very exceptional changeup.

Cole: Is it kind of a screwball-type pitch?

Holman: Yeah, it has some sinking action. I think he does a little of both. It depends on whether he's trying to throw it for a strike. If he is just trying to lay it in there in a 2-0 count, it doesn't have as much action. But he really, really manipulates it a little bit, turns it over, and gets the sink to it when he throws it for a strikeout.

Cole: It seems like the big thing with him has been fastball command and getting ahead with his fastball. How is he doing in terms of that? And what must he do in order to improve in that area?

Holman: He is doing much better, especially as of late. He has had a couple good outings here in a row. Fastball command is not something that just comes overnight. He is learning how to control his body. And within the delivery, how to maintain balance. And again, not just balance at the starting point and the balance point, but balance on the finish––on the landing leg, where he doesn't fall opposite of his arm or throw out of control.

So it's learning how to actually manipulate the body to go directionally toward home plate. And doing it at the same time aggressively and under control. He is doing very well with that. He has a good angle with his fastball, and he knows how to make adjustments. That has been the course of action here––getting him to understand what he needs to do to make adjustments. He is doing well with that.

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