Darren Holmes already had ties to the Orioles prior to his hiring as bullpen coach. One that played out in public and another that happened behind the scenes - its significance to the organization much slower to develop.
Fans can be excused if they’ve forgotten how Holmes appeared in five games with the Orioles in 2000, former executive Syd Thrift acquiring a reliever who was trying to pitch through a back injury that later required surgery.
What does Holmes remember about his brief tenure in Baltimore?
“I remember I left there with a 20 ERA,” he said, drawing laughter during Thursday’s “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
Holmes actually registered a 25.07 ERA with 13 runs allowed over 4 2/3 innings. Five of those runs scored in his debut at Fenway Park, which included three walks in one inning. Brian Daubach homered in the Red Sox’s 12-4 win.
It’s easier now to find the humor. A career no longer hangs in the balance.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Holmes said. “I had a lot of back injuries that season. I got released by Arizona, got picked up by St. Louis. I agreed to go down to try to get myself better. I had just taken an epidural for my back. So I went down to Memphis and a week later, I think I pitched in two games there, Baltimore traded for me and brought me over, and I just wasn’t good.
“My back was all messed up and I just wasn’t every effective, so they ended up releasing me. I didn’t pitch a lot. I was thinking, they couldn’t watch anymore. I ended up actually getting back up with Arizona for the last month and a half of the season, but at the end of that season I had a fusion done in my back. I actually had disintegrated my disk and the pain was disguised by epidurals. So I was really in bad shape and didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again. I ended up rehabbing really well and the surgery took well and I was able to come back and play a couple more years with Atlanta.”
Holmes made one of the more impressive comebacks that baseball has witnessed, sitting out the 2001 season and registering a 1.81 ERA and 0.970 WHIP the following summer in 55 appearances with the Braves.
“I actually had the best year of my career the first year back from surgery. Was second in ERA for a bullpen guy in baseball,” he said.
“I played one more year and then, unfortunately, had a shoulder injury and I decided to call it quits.”
This is where the data-driven portion of Holmes’ life begins to take hold - which later would make him an attractive candidate for the Orioles, who had him interview with manager Brandon Hyde, pitching coach Doug Brocail, director of pitching Chris Holt, major league field coordinator Tim Cossins and various members of the front office.
Holmes spent the 2014 season as the Braves’ biomechanics pitching consultant. And before working in professional baseball, he served as the director of sports performance at the Acceleration Sports Institute in Greenville, S.C., where he was responsible for overseeing the training of Olympic, professional, collegiate and high school athletes with a focus on the biomechanics of pitching.
“It’s where we’re going in baseball. You can fight it and be out of the game or you can embrace it and be a part of it. I chose to embrace it and be a part of it,” Holmes said.
“It’s something that hasn’t come natural to me, but it’s something I’ve worked on. It’s something that I’ve studied, it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time with to understand, because you know what? These guys know this stuff. These young guys, they understand what analytics are. They understand spin rate ... horizontal break and vertical break.
“I had to really dig in and start learning. I kind of fought it at first because at heart I’m old school, but after I started digging in there was some really quality good stuff that comes from analytic stuff and it’s really good for the players and it’s really good for the coaches. So I’ve really embraced it. And getting over here to Baltimore I think is really good because they’re very analytic.
“I actually spent about an hour and a half interviewing with analytic guys and they went through and showed me everything they do and it’s top notch. It’s really good stuff. Chris Holt, very analytic. (Mike) Elias and Sig (Mejdal) obviously come from a very analytic background with Houston, and Brocail is really good with analytics, also. It’s been really fun to work together and continue to hone what we need to do for these guys.”
So what’s the second link to the Orioles prior to his hiring?
It involves reliever and former first-round pick Hunter Harvey, and more importantly, the father who counseled Holmes.
“I’ve known Hunter for a long time,” Holmes said. “Not really personally, but his dad, Bryan, is one of my good friends. As a matter of fact, when I became a closer for Colorado, I started out and really struggled, and Bryan Harvey, we live about 40 minutes apart (in North Carolina) and Miami came in and Bryan Harvey called me out and he took me and gave me a lot of really good information about closing and about mentality.
“I was trying to do too much and he really played a big role in my mentality going forward and how I looked at the game and how I looked at being a closer. And then ended up finishing my last four or five years as a setup guy. But his dad played a big role in me being in baseball.
“I remember when Hunter was born. I think we’re definitely going to have some good stories about Carolina and probably a lot of hunting stories.”