Motivated Rangers starter Holland following through on off-season work

Posted Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Motivation comes in many forms for Derek Holland.

He looks a few lockers to his left during a homestand and sees Matt Harrison, a fellow left-hander who has won 32 games the past two seasons and had developed into the Texas Rangers’ most dependable starter entering the season.

Holland is also a self-motivator, who wants to be the best pitcher on his team and in the league and realize the high expectations heaped upon him as he rose through the minors and after he won 16 games in 2011.

And he hears the voices of his critics, who say that he’s too caught up in outside distractions or creates his own distractions by being who he is.

It’s still early, as players and managers like to say, but Holland has poured all that motivated him over the off-season into a strong start to his 2013 season.

“It’s only been a few games, but I know I’ve got to continue working,” Holland said. “Criticism always pushes you. Trust me, it does. There’s always going to be someone who says you stink.”

The Rangers and Chicago Cubs were rained out Wednesday night, with no makeup date announced, and the forecast for this afternoon’s 1:20 p.m. game also looks like a soaker at Wrigley Field.

They at least got one game in Tuesday, when Holland (1-1) earned his first victory of the season by allowing two hits in seven scoreless innings before his fine work became overshadowed by a wild finish in the Rangers’ 4-2 win.

He struck out six and walked none in becoming the only pitcher in the rotation to open the season with three consecutive quality starts. His ERA dropped to 1.64, and he has allowed only 13 hits in a team-high 22 innings.

Manager Ron Washington said that Holland threw all of his pitches for strikes, a continuation of his first two starts, and has benefited from better fastball command, more depth on his breaking ball and the rediscovery of his changeup.

It’s not a new pitch. In fact, it was considered his best pitch as he ascended quickly through the minor leagues. But he lost the feel for it as he tinkered with the grip before getting confident with it again.

“I just have a better feel for it,” he said. “It’s nothing major. It’s like I’m just putting on an old pair of shoes.”

But a changed man is in those shoes. Holland cut down on his appearances in the off-season, a suggestion that came from within the organization that also served as motivation.

“It wasn’t just talk,” Washington said. “He was distracted. That’s fact.”

Holland appears to have his priorities in order, and his words seem to have more conviction now than they have in the past. The same can be said about his pitching, albeit through three starts.

Washington has witnessed that in the way he is finishing off innings. In the past, Holland had quickly gotten two outs in an inning before occasionally pitching himself into trouble and prompting Washington to make a rare in-game visit to the mound.

So far, Holland has shown that he is growing out of that phase. He got out of his only two-out trouble quickly Tuesday as he retired Scott Hairston after Alfonso Soriano had doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch.

The total package, which dates to spring training, has Washington believing that Holland is a better pitcher now than he was in 2011, when he won 16 games and tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series.

“He’s much better to me,” Washington said. “He’s much more polished. His stuff right now is consistent, and it’s been that way since Day One of spring training. That’s a lot of time to judge.”

But it’s only the beginning, said Holland, who is comforted by his start and has found something else to motivate him because of it.

“You’ve got to keep going,” he said. “I’ve got three in a row. Now, let’s go get four, and let’s go get five and let’s go get six. I like the challenge that I’ve given myself.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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