KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Hammer now has a little hardware.
Right-hander Greg Holland won election Tuesday as the Royals’ pitcher of the year after stamping himself as a dominant successor to a pair of All-Star closers, Joakim Soria and Jonathan Broxton.
“I learned so much from both of those guys,” Holland said. “They’re both pretty quiet people in just going about their business. But you can learn a lot from them in seeing how they carry themselves before the game, during the game and after (the game).
“You wouldn’t know whether they blew a save or not — either one of them. They stay so composed. Being able to watch both of those guys helped me a lot. It’s helped all of the young guys in our bullpen.”
Holland, 26, won the award after going 7-4 with 16 saves and a 2.96 ERA in 67 games while registering 91 strikeouts in 67 innings. Those 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second among American League relievers — ergo, the nickname.
“I’ve always said closing can be hard if you make it (hard),” he said. “I’ve pitched in a lot of tough situations in the sixth and seventh innings with runners on, where you’ve got to have a strikeout or a ground ball with the infield in.
“Those (situations) can be a lot more difficult than coming in with a three-run lead.”
The Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year award is chosen through a vote by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The group previously picked shortstop Alcides Escobar as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award.
The Les Milgram Player of the Year will be announced Wednesday.
The Rice award is named in memory of a long-time Kansas City sportscaster who died from a heart attack in 1978 following a road trip to Pittsburgh to cover the Chiefs.
The Royals selected Holland in the 10th round of the 2007 draft. He reached the majors late in the 2010 season before establishing himself as a reliable bullpen weapon in 2011 by compiling a 1.80 ERA over 46 games.
“I love his body language,” manager Ned Yost said. “Confidence is a trait you can’t develop. That’s something that you’re gifted with — the ability to have confidence in yourself; and the ability to have consistent confidence.
“It’s not only the confidence you have in yourself. It’s the confidence that your teammates have in you. When Holland comes in the game, he’s got the kind of confidence that allows everyone else to have confidence in him.”
Even so, Yost opted for Broxton, a veteran signed the previous offseason, when Soria suffered a season-ending injury in spring training. Holland got the job when a July 31 trade sent Broxton to Cincinnati just prior to the non-waiver deadline.
“You have to earn your spot,” Holland said. “When you come into the big leagues, you’re just fighting for innings. Whatever situation you pitch in, you just try to get the next guy out, stay healthy and let everything take its course.”
Holland struggled last April before admitting to a bruised left rib cage that caused him to change his delivery. Once he returned from the disabled list, he compiled a 2.08 ERA over 60 games, including a 1.98 mark in 26 outings following the Broxton trade.
“I couldn’t drive the ball down in the zone,” Holland said. “I was leaving pitches up, and when you leave pitches up, you get behind in the count. And, two, they hit the ball in the air. You can drive the ball a lot better when it’s elevated.”
Holland is the 26th pitcher to receive the Rice award. Bruce Chen was last year’s recipient. Previous winners include nine players later inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. Holland is the seventh reliever to win the award in its 42-year history.
“It’s still a learning process,” he said. “The more times you’re out there, the more comfortable you get and the more composed you can keep yourself when situations don’t go the way you want. That’s something that takes time to develop.
“I’d love to be the closer and be given that opportunity for years to come, but you don’t know what’s around the bend…Whatever the case might be going into spring training, I’m going to focus on staying healthy and getting outs in whatever inning that might be.”