February 13, 2013

Rangers' Holland decides to cut the comedy

By learning to say “no,” Derek Holland could have Rangers saying “yes.”

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Spring training is under way as of Wednesday, with the first workout for Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers jump-starting the February-to-October baseball marathon.

Day One, which included the always-popular PFPs and live batting practice, also pushes the Rangers into a new frontier that has finally been reached after years of construction.

Believe it or not, 2013 is the Year of the Starting Rotation. Some club officials are convinced, or have convinced themselves, the Rangers are at the dawn of a pitching-first era.

"The emphasis on pitching is something we've been building toward," general manager Jon Daniels said. "This is something we've talked about forever, right?"

The Rangers have a chance to keep talking about the strength of their rotation for at least the next four years, as four members of the rotation are locked up contractually through 2016.

Among them is Derek Holland, drafted in 2006 and showing in flashes the type of stuff worthy of the five-year contract extension he signed last spring.

But it's always been a mixture of good with the bad with Holland, who has also parlayed his goofball personality into some extra time in front of the cameras.

Whether Holland is a master self-promoter or, more likely, just a kind-hearted soul who won't refuse a request for his time, the Rangers suggested that he try toning down the act and put more attention on baseball.

The left-hander has bought in, and is trying to do his best to just say no more often.

"It's less of the interviews and those kinds of things," Holland said. "It's taking a different approach to it, just carrying myself a little bit better.

"I'm still going to be the same guy I was before, just with more of a serious approach, turning things down, keeping more of my focus on the field."

To say that Holland doesn't take his day job seriously is simply uninformed, though easy to reach based on his 2011 mustache that took on a life of its own and a fondness for Chuck Norris.

If he's not the Rangers' hardest worker in the gym, he's easily in the top five, and he has become more dedicated to watching video between starts the past few years.

But his mound performance in 2012 failed to meet expectations after piling up 16 regular-season wins and four shutouts in 2011, and working 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series.

Holland won 12 games last year and was sidelined in June by shoulder fatigue brought on by a stomach virus that had sapped him of strength and 15-or-so pounds.

On the mound, he was hampered by the gopher ball, allowing 32 homers in only 175 1/3 innings.

To those who think that his Harry Caray weather report or his radio show or his prolific Twitter posts have affected his performance, Holland is trying to prove that perception isn't reality.

"I don't want people saying, 'Oh, that's why he's not pitching well because he's out doing this,'" he said. "That's not what it comes down to. There's a lot of work that people don't see, and they want to judge on what they do see. It's upsetting."

The subtractions from last season's offense suggest that there is less room for mound error. The Rangers will need to win more games 4-3 or 2-1 than 9-5 or 11-8.

If the Rangers are to succeed in 2013 they will need Holland to keep pace with the rest of the rotation. Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando have been All-Stars the past two seasons, and Harrison has passed Holland as the club's top lefty.

Heck, Harrison is the club's top pitcher and will likely be starting on Opening Day. Holland is slotted to be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter, not exactly where most thought he would be after what was thought to be a breakthrough 2011 season.

He's dedicated to cutting down on the bull and proving his critics and doubters wrong.

"I've always tried to give back every single time I've been asked," Holland said. "I've got to learn how to say 'no,' unfortunately.'

"If that's what it takes, I've got to do that. Cut back on the radio interviews and all that. That's fine with me. I know what I need to do and what I'm capable of doing."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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