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September hero John Holdzkom trying comeback


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John Holdzkom - AP

John Holdzkom, a 6-foot-9 relief pitcher the Pirates plucked out of a $600-per-month independent league in Texas in 2014, is trying to restart his baseball career two years removed from his last pitch as a professional player.

Holdzkom, 30, will pitch for the Auckland Tuatara, an expansion team in the Australian Baseball League based in New Zealand.

He was a September star for the Pirates in the 2014 season as they pushed toward a second consecutive wild-card playoff berth. He was pitching for the San Angelo Colts of the now-defunct United League Baseball when scout Mal Fichman signed him to a minor-league contract with Class AA Altoona on June 24. With his pitching repertoire finally in tune with his imposing size, Holdzkom was mowing down batters. He was promoted to Class AAA Indianapolis on July 5.

The Pirates, in need of bullpen help, brought him to the big leagues on Sept. 2 and he struck out the side at Busch Stadium in his MLB debut. Holdzkom appeared in eight games before finally giving up a run and finished the season with a win and a save. He had 14 strikeouts and gave up only four hits in his nine regular-season appearances.

“What he did for us and how he helped us in that short time period, it was so beneficial – and the timing, oh, it couldn’t have been much better,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage told “We’ll always be in debt for it. The timing was just impeccable.”

He did not pitch another inning for the Pirates. He was optioned to Triple-A in 2015 and went on the disabled list three times with shoulder injuries. The shoulder pain was “excruciating” at spring training in 2016 and his high-90s fastball had been slowed to 89-91 mph.

The Pirates designated him for assignment. He was claimed by the White Sox then cut again.


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