A sports-talk show in Hartford, Conn., was continuing its annual preview of every major league team Friday, when the Texas Rangers were the station’s team du jour.
Very quickly the show’s hosts zeroed in on the starting rotation and asked their “guest expert” if there was more pressure to pitch well this year on Yu Darvish or Derek Holland.
“Me, for sure,” Holland said Tuesday, before he logged 4 2/3 innings in a game against San Diego minor leaguers.
Credit the left-hander for his honesty and also for his awareness of his importance to the Rangers’ rotation as the No. 3 starter. He knows that he can’t be as inconsistent as he was last year, when he won 12 times but with a 4.67 ERA.
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But he’s known that since October, when the Rangers’ season came to a premature conclusion. The work he did during the off-season has left him feeling more ready for the regular season than in any other spring camp.
The 2013 season isn’t a now-or-never proposition, but maybe a better-late-than-never campaign for Holland.
“Obviously, last year was not a great year for me,” said Holland, who missed a month because of shoulder fatigue.
“I went through quite a bit and got myself to bounce back strong. I spent my whole off-season working on everything possibly known that could be worked on. I feel like this is the season for me.”
Holland doesn’t feel pressure like he once did. As a rookie, he beat himself up after lousy starts, and in 2010 he had to play catch-up after an early-season arm injury that relegated him to relief duty for the postseason.
He labored through an up-and-down first half of 2011 before closing with a 9-1 flurry after the All-Star break, and then tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series in a critical spot.
Holland feels like he has recaptured that form this spring. The biggest piece of evidence so far was his World Baseball Classic outing March 10 for Team USA against Canada, when he allowed two runs in five innings and, more importantly, was able to minimize damage in spots where previously things might have snowballed.
“But I got out of it,” he said. “To me, I feel like it’s a whole new Derek. I feel strong. I know what lies ahead. Everything has been working out for me. I’ve adjusted to everything.”
All that’s left is to execute, which is easier said than done. The Rangers agree that Holland has made progress this spring even though they haven’t watched him pitch first-hand since Feb. 28.
But they had an insider tracking Holland with Team USA, as special assistant Greg Maddux served as pitching coach.
“I have very reliable source who said that his stuff was very good,” said Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Greg’s older brother.
Even on Tuesday while pitching in a Triple A game, Holland threw all of his pitches for strikes and had good velocity. He left the Peoria Sports Complex with a misleading pitching line of five runs (four earned) on nine hits after his first outing in nine days, a stretch that included a bout of food poisoning.
“I know it didn’t look very good on paper, but overall I felt strong,” he said after throwing 88 pitches. “That’s the main thing.”
A simple tweet of his final pitching line elicited knee-jerk overreactions from fans who expect more. Holland knows that the pressure is on him this season, but he’s confident that he will live up to high expectations.
“I’m not thinking about it, but I know it’s there,” said Holland, who’s in the second season of a five-year, $28.5 million contract extension. “I put it on myself anyway. I feel like this needs to be a good year for me, and I feel like it will be.”