Calling the Pen: Jackson Holliday's time is coming -

Calling the Pen: Jackson Holliday’s time is coming


Cedric Mullins had just hit the game-winning home run against the Twins and waiting for him at home plate were his teammates and the Hydration Station, which surprised him more than the pitch he powered onto the flag court at Camden Yards. Standing behind those huddled closely to greet Mullins was Jackson Holliday, looking almost as if he didn’t belong in the center of the celebration.

That was my perception, and everyone seems to have one about the most scrutinized young player in baseball. I was disappointed when he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, and I was surprised when he was called up on April 9th. I was certain, though, that he was ready for the promotion.

After seven games, one hit and 14 strikeouts in 25 at-bats, I still don’t have any doubt that he’ll be an exceptional player. But, like his teammate Austin Hays, who’s batting .073, Holliday’s early struggles are becoming hard to watch.

The excitement of the arrival of the sport’s top prospect has yielded to expectation. And when expectations are as high as they are for Holliday, patience starts to run low. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde would remind those of us who might be feeling sorry for the kid that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.

When he didn’t get a hit and struck out seven times in his first three games, including his first at home, Hyde thought Holliday needed to catch his breath after a whirlwind start. It seemed to work. Last Sunday, he got his first hit and scored what proved to be the winning run to help the Orioles avoid being swept by the Brewers.

Hyde said he thought with the first hit out of the way, Holliday could stop pressing and relax. But he went 0-for-10 against the Twins with five strikeouts. On his last strikeout on Wednesday, Orioles broacaster Ben McDonald noted that he didn’t have his timing on the fastball. When Gunnar Henderson followed with a line drive single — another ball that he hit more than 100 mph — McDonald pointed out the difference in timing.

Henderson started slowly last year, struggling to get his batting average to .200 before taking off and earning the Rookie of the Year award. Another former Oriole shortstop, Cal Ripken, had only five hits in first 39 at-bats.

The Orioles are 12-6, riding a number of hot bats, including those of Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg. That success reduces the spotlight on Holliday and gives him time to keep learning on the job. He’s the son of former major league standout Matt Holliday. He’s grown up in major league clubhouses, seeing firsthand the highs and lows the sport can bring. His next game will be in Kansas City, where the great George Brett had five hits in his first 40 at-bats.

Holliday is poised and polite in his interviews, showing maturity beyond his 20 years. He looks at the challenge as a learning experience, one that might be harder than he expected. If there’s a concern, it’s about his confidence. It’s a physical game that requires extraordinary skills, but it’s also a test of mental strength. Only Holliday knows how he is handling that part of it.

I’ve been thinking how much better, and exciting, the lineup will be once Holliday hits his stride. It’s impossible to know how much longer that will take, but it’s fun to imagine his teammates and the Hydration Station waiting for him at home plate.

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