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Pirates notebook: For Holdzkom, a whole new world

| Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, 7:03 p.m.
Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom throws during a voluntary workout Wednesday, Jan.14, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom throws during a voluntary workout Wednesday, Jan.14, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates pitcher Clayton Richard throws during a voluntary work-out Tuesday, Jan.13, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher Clayton Richard throws during a voluntary work-out Tuesday, Jan.13, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom throws during a voluntary work-out Thursday, Jan.15, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom throws during a voluntary work-out Thursday, Jan.15, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Most ballplayers gauge their success by how many levels in the minor leagues they climb from one year to the next.

Reliever John Holdzkom can measure his progress by the miles he's traveled.

This week, Holdzkom trained with other big league pitchers at the voluntary winter workouts at the Pirates' sprawling spring training complex. Last winter, he was more than 9,000 miles away, playing in a men's club league in Australia.

“Yeah, there's a big difference between now and what I was doing a year ago at this time,” Holdzkom said with a grin.

Before the Pirates signed him last summer, Holdzkom played for eight teams in a 13-month span. He pitched in the minor leagues and was on New Zealand's roster for the World Baseball Classic. Scouts loved his upper-90s mph fastball, but his erratic control drove coaches crazy.

After bouncing around in the independent leagues, Holdzkom caught the eye of a Pirates scout. Everyone knows the story's magical finish: Holdzkom changed his grip and dominated in the minors, struck out the side in his big league debut and was on the roster for the wild-card game against the San Francisco Giants.

And now? When spring training begins in five weeks, Holdzkom will be wearing a big league uniform — and he won't be taking anything for granted.

“Am I more settled now? I don't know,” Holdzkom said. “In baseball you never get to stop having to prove yourself. This year, I'm going to fight to make the team and see what happens.

“Last year was a lot of fun. It was the highlight of my life so far. But it's in the past now, and I want to play baseball for a long time. I've got to go about my business. That's how I have to treat it.”

Another comeback candidate?

Left-hander Clayton Richard has had to overcome a pair of surgeries and has not pitched in a big league game since June 2013. When he became a free agent this winter, it was a no-brainer for Richard to sign with the Pirates.

“Their track record with pitchers is hard to beat,” Richard said. “It's a perfect fit.”

Richard, 31, went 14-9 with a 3.75 ERA with the San Diego Padres in 2010. A shoulder operation checked him to just 18 starts in 2011, but he bounced back the next year to again win 14 games with a 3.99 ERA.

When his shoulder flared up again in 2013, Richard was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. To relieve pressure on nerves and blood vessels in Richard's neck and chest, doctors removed a rib and one of his neck muscles.

“It was definitely the biggest and most intensive surgery I've ever had,” Richard said. “But on the other hand, it had nothing to do with my shoulder. So the rehab part of it was totally different. I didn't have to worry about my shoulder healing. The mechanics of my shoulder were good.”

Edinson Volquez, a teammate of Richard's in San Diego, suggested he sign with the Pirates. Volquez was arguably the worst pitcher in the majors in 2013 but turned things around last season in Pittsburgh.

“He was able to fix some stuff here, and he really enjoyed it here,” Richard said. “He had nothing but good things to say about the organization.”

Assignments finalized

Four of the Pirates' minor league teams will have new managers this season, but the Dean of the group returns.

Dean Treanor will manage Triple-A Indianapolis for a fifth consecutive season, the Pirates announced Thursday.

Tom Prince will manage Double-A Altoona after leading High-A Bradenton last season, Michael Ryan takes over at Bradenton after spending 2014 at Single-A West Virginia, and Brian Esposito will manage West Virginia after managing Jamestown in Single-A short season.

The Jamestown club relocated to West Virginia and will be called the Black Bears. Wyatt Toregas will manage the team in his first managerial assignment.

Around the diamond

Friday is the deadline for clubs and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures in the event hearings are necessary. The Pirates have 12 such players, including Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Melancon, Francisco Cervelli and Antonio Bastardo. ... Infielder Brent Morel got a nonroster invitation to spring training.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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