Gil LeBreton

January 14, 2014

Rangers have to replace Derek Holland with No. 2-like starter

Ownership must dip into its rainy day fund and find a free agent.

Keen timing has never been one of pitcher Derek Holland’s strong suits.

Oh, he’s had his moments.

There was the night before the trading deadline in his rookie season, 2009, when Holland allowed one base runner in eight innings, teasing the Texas Rangers into having cold feet about including him in a rumored Roy Halladay trade.

And, more memorably, there was Game 4 of the 2011 World Series, when lefty Holland shut out the Cardinals for eight-plus innings.

His worst timing, though, came last week. According to Derek, his dog Wrigley tripped him on the stairs at home and caused him to fall on his left knee. Dr. Keith Meister performed microfracture surgery Friday to repair damaged cartilage.

My advice to Holland on Tuesday, as he rested at home?

Don’t Google the term “microfracture surgery.” The results don’t yield very many positive vibes.

Cautiously, the Rangers have said that Holland may not be able to return until midseason. Holland, who can’t believe a dog would cause such a major calamity, believes he can work hard and be back on the mound much sooner.

Microfracture surgery, however, doesn’t appear to offer many shortcuts. The “fracturing” in a microfracture procedure is performed by the surgeon himself, and it’s designed to allow blood and bone marrow to seep out of the new openings. The blood clots that are formed are expected to create replacement cartilage.

But that takes time.

Holland didn’t have to be told twice to avoid trawling the Internet for helpful microfracture hints.

“I try to stay away from all that stuff and just go by what the doctor says,” he said Tuesday. “I have a feeling it’s just going to make me go crazy.”

It’s the Rangers who need to be realistic. Holland made all 33 of his scheduled starts last season, finished with a 1.286 WHIP and a wins-above-replacement figure of 3.3 — second on the team behind Yu Darvish.

Holland was optimistic that his pitching mates could handle his absence.

“I feel confident,” he said. “There’s a lot of great guys in our organization and in our rotation. I can see big things out of Matt Harrison this year, and Colby [Lewis] is going to open up a lot of things.

“We’ve got a strong staff. The guys are going to take care of business. Darvish is going to do his thing. Everything is going to be all right. It’s going to be like I’m not even there.”

That’s the problem, though. A team contending for the pennant should not expect to replace its No. 2 starter with a replacement-level pitcher, even for half a season.

Harrison and Lewis, both coming back from season-ending injuries, pitched a combined 10-plus innings last year. Moving a reliever into the rotation is always an iffy option and would weaken the bullpen.

Rangers ownership is going to have to dip into its rainy day fund, because the clouds just turned darker.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have long seemed to be the likely landing spot for Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka.

The Rangers, therefore, need to be looking at free agents Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and, yes, even Matt Garza as rotation alternatives.

The Internet has its share of both success stories and cautionary tales of athletes who have undergone the same surgery that Holland just had.

The prevailing theme for all of them: no shortcuts to recovery.

Pitcher and catchers report in 32 days.

The Rangers suddenly need an umbrella — one that can pitch like a No. 2 starter for the first four or five months.

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