SEATTLE — Every player and coach in a Texas Rangers uniform July 2 knew that Derek Holland was a much better pitcher than he had shown against Florida.
Manager Ron Washington knew it. Pitching coach Mike Maddux knew. Team leader Michael Young knew it.
Holland, though, needed to hear it. Now, he needs to keep believing it.
He dealt his second straight complete-game shutout Thursday, allowing only five hits to Seattle as the Rangers won their eighth straight game, 5-0.
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His success has been made possible by throwing quality strikes and getting ahead of hitters, even Oakland and Seattle hitters. But the 18-inning scoreless streak started after a wave of positive reinforcement.
“It’s a maturing process,” Holland said. “This game is very mental, that’s for sure.”
Holland (8-4) retired the first 15 hitters on only 53 pitches as the Mariners could get only two balls out of the infield. Franklin Gutierrez took a walk to start the sixth, and Chone Figgins followed with a single to take Holland’s mind off a run at history.
But his back-to-back blankings are the first by a Rangers pitcher since Charlie Hough had three straight in 1983. The last American League pitcher with consecutive shutouts was Roy Halladay in 2009 for Toronto.
The Rangers don’t expect Holland to pitch a shutout every game, but they understand that he has the kind of stuff that won’t be available this year at the July 31 trade deadline.
The Rangers hope he can bottle the good stuff and keep his mind in the right place.
“He’s got to be the one who decided to do it,” manager Ron Washington said. “He’s throwing the ball the way we know he’s capable of doing, but if he can stay consistent like that throwing the ball in the strike zone, he’s going to be fine.”
Not just strikes, Washington corrected. Quality strikes. Holland threw plenty of strikes June 26 against New York, but the Mets got him for 12 hits and he didn’t strike anyone out.
He was too hittable, and that carried over into his next start against Florida. He was told by Washington that he had hit rock bottom and needed to take control of his season. Holland thought he was going to the bullpen, and he wasn’t alone.
So, he huddled with Maddux and the Rangers’ catchers, and got some encouragement from Young. Now, he’s not just throwing the ball down the middle but working both sides of the plate and keeping hitters guessing with a good changeup and curveball.
His head is also in the right place.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” said Holland, who threw 118 pitches/79 strikes. “That’s been a big adjustment for me, just go out, have fun, stay relaxed and don’t put too much pressure on myself.”
Seattle collected two hits in the seventh and had two more with two outs in the ninth. After a visit from Maddux and with Neftali Feliz warming, Holland got Adam Kennedy to fly out on the first pitch.
It was Holland’s third shutout of the season, which ties him for the league lead with James Shields and Jason Vargas. The Rangers collected all of their offense off Vargas in six innings, including solo homers by Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli.
The Rangers are a season-best 11 games above .500 and 1 ½ games up on the Angels in the AL West.
“We finished the first half strong, and it was good to start the second half the same way,” Cruz said. “The way Holland is throwing is amazing. It feels like he doesn’t need that many runs.” How Rangers pitchers fared: Derek Holland was masterful — and perfect — over his first five innings before issuing a walk and a single to start the sixth. The Mariners had two hits in the seventh and ninth, but they had only one runner reach third base.
How Rangers hitters fared: The offense didn’t miss a beat after the All-Star break. The Rangers collected 12 hits, giving them a baseball-best 45 games with double-digit hits. Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli launched solo homers. Napoli (3 for 4) even stole a base.