Derek Holland was a second-half pitcher last season, going 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA and convincing the Texas Rangers that he was worthy of a contract extension.
His first start after the All-Star break was a five-hit shutout over Seattle, the team that welcomed the Rangers for their second-half opener Friday.
So, it was only fitting that Holland turned in his best performance of the 2012 season in the Rangers' first game after the All-Star break.
The left-hander tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings, and Adrian Beltre hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning against his former team as the Rangers hung on for a 3-2 victory over the Mariners.
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Joe Nathan survived a wild ninth inning that prevented the Rangers' first shutout since June 13. But he struck out Dustin Ackley to end the game with the tying run at third base and the game-winner at first.
For Holland, his effort came as he tries to make up for the time he lost while missing a month of the season because of fatigue.
He can't do it all in one start, but Friday night was a start as he tries to get back to his 2011 second-half form.
“It's frustrating to sit and watch your teammates battle and you can't really do anything,” Holland said. “Now I get that chance to go out there, and I want to make sure I take advantage of it.”
He nearly lost that chance in the fourth inning after he breezed through the first three on 32 pitches. He retired the first hitter in the fourth, but allowed a single and two walks to the next three hitters.
Manager Ron Washington paid Holland a visit during his unraveling, and catcher Mike Napoli went to the mound two other times. The final time came during a 10-pitch at-bat by Justin Smoak, who ripped two loud foul balls before eventually popping out to shortstop.
Nelson Cruz made a sliding grab on Miguel Olivo's sinking liner to end the threat.
“To me, that was a big at-bat,” Holland said of the duel with his former teammate, Smoak. “He's not an easy out.”
The Rangers would respond with the game's first run on a two-out single by Ian Kinsler that scored Michael Young.
Napoli was out at home after a hard slide into Olivo, and would leave the game after eight innings with a bruised right quadriceps. Yorvit Torrealba came in to replace him, and is expected to start tonight.
Holland then turned in his best two innings, retiring the Mariners in order in the fifth on nine pitches and in the sixth on 11. In between, Beltre launched his 53rd career homer at Safeco Field off Kevin Millwood (3-7) after Josh Hamilton had singled with one out.
“He shut them right down, and then he shut them right down in the sixth,” Washington said. “That's what you do when your team goes out and scores you some runs.”
Holland pitched around a leadoff single in the seventh, and was headed toward a scoreless eighth before Ichiro Suzuki reached on an infield single.
Mike Adams, though, took care of Casper Wells to end the inning and set the stage for Nathan, who quickly got the first out of the ninth. But Kyle Seager, Smoak and John Jaso followed with seeing-eye singles to load the bases.
The next hitter, Michael Saunders, hit a chopper off Young for an error, and the ball kicked into foul territory as Seager scored. Saunders, though, took a wide turn around first base and was tagged out by Nathan for the second out as Young threw behind Saunders.
“What you never need to do is mail it in on a play,” Young said. “Everyone's always got a place to be. That's a great job by him [Nathan].”
But Smoak and Jaso were in scoring position for pinch hitter Carlos Paguero. Smoak would score on a wild pitch, and Jaso would move to third.
Paguero walked, but Nathan got Ackley on strikes to end it.
“He got it finished, though,” Washington said. “The bottom line is he got the final three outs we needed.”
The win, the Rangers' third straight, and the Los Angeles Angels' loss to the New York Yankees gave the Rangers a five-game lead in the American League West.
But the best news was a return to form by Holland, who very well may have started a path to a second straight strong second half.
“It going to be tough to repeat, but he needs to get better,” Washington said. “We believe in him, so we've just got to keep giving him the ball as long as he's healthy and hope that he continues to progress.”